Hakuna Matata what a wonderful phrase! The Lion King is roaring on Blu-ray and DVD this week from the Walt Disney Signature Collection, and I had a special opportunity to sit down with the charming Ernie Sabella who voices Pumbaa in the animated classic. His spirit beams from being apart of this film, and he still enjoys getting into character 20 years later!
I was invited as media to cover this event. All opinions are my own.
Exclusive Interview w/Ernie Sabella aka The Lion King Pumbaa Warthog
Ernie enters the room singing Hakuna Matata with a huge grin on his face. We’re seated at a round table at Animal Kingdom’s Tiffin’s Restaurant. Ernie is quite the story teller, so the entire interview is light and fun.
Q: How does it feel to see a whole new generation respond to you still?
“I started in 1992, the first session with Nathan (Timon). Fast forward to opening, and Roy Disney gave me a watch with Pumbaa on it, which I gave to my dad. And he said ‘how does it feel to know that every child on the planet knows and loves your voice?’ And that’s when it hit me, the gravity and the impact that I might be able to have on kids. So, it’s a gift, and it keeps giving.”
Q: What were your thoughts when you were first approached about the movie?
Nathan Lane and Ernie were doing a show called “Guys and Dolls” at the time when they heard about an audition for the part of two hyenas in an upcoming Disney film. After doing a read with a mix of improv for the director, they joked as they left that at least they had their day job, never thinking they’d hear back from Disney. About two months later, they learned that they had been upgraded to the part of Timon and Pumbaa for The Lion King. They returned, this time to a big loft apartment and when the elevator doors opened, there was Tim Rice, Elton John, Rob, Don, and a big piano. He told us a story about not remembering what kind of voices they used in the audition and were nervous to say anything to anyone!
Once they learned of the other actors cast in The Lion King, like Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons, and James Earl Jones, they thought there’s no way “two little guys doing a show in New York” were going to keep the gig, but they did!
Q: Do you ever surprise kids in public as The Lion King Pumbaa?
“Yes, when the movie first came out I went to FAO Schwartz. There’s like a hundred Pumbaa dolls. And I see this like three year old holding a big Pumbaa. And I’m behind some dolls, and I went Hakuna Matata. I think I did that one or two more times until a parent looked at me like, ‘hey, get outta here. I don’t want to buy that doll, can’t afford it.'”
He also shared a recent story, while staying at Disney’s Grand Floridian he shared an elevator ride with “a lovely couple from England” who had just gotten married. He asked them if they liked the movie The Lion King, which they shared was a favorite of theirs, and he blew them away by telling them he was The Lion King Pumbaa. They excitedly took selfies with Ernie, and he even spoke with the bride’s dad on the phone.
Q: How do you feel about the live action Lion King?
“Can’t wait to see it. I think it’s thrilling that it has another life.” Adding, “I’m hoping for a cameo. That scene where Pumbaa, everything with you is gas, you know that? Laying there looking…I’d like to maybe have one of the constellations be Pumbaa. And then just [say] Hakuna Matata.”
It was such a joy to speak with Ernie about his role as The Lion King Pumbaa. He was happy to take selfies with us after the interview too!
Don’t forget! The Lion King is now available on Blu-ray and DVD! Get your copy today!