The Lion King Actor Explains Timon & Pumbaa's Chemistry

Disney The Lion King Animated Simba Timon Pumbaa

Ernie Sabella’s voice of Pumbaa in Disney’s The Lion King is iconic to many. However, he has played a variety of roles throughout his long career. Sabella had a memorable stint on Saved By The Bell as Leon Carosi, played Lou Donatelli in the Jason Bateman comedy It’s Your Move, and has reprised his role of Pumbaa in Disney’s The Lion Guard. Now Disney’s The Lion King has a signature collection, which will be available on Digital HD on August 15 and Blu-Ray on August 29.

Screen Rant got a chance to talk with Sabella on press day, where we discussed what voices he played with to get to the signature Pumbaa voice, what scenes were ad libbed in The Lion King, and what his favorite scene was in The Lion King.

We are here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and I am with the legend, Ernie Sabella. How are you, Sir?

Ernie Sabella: Hakuna Matata.

I’ve literally just been waiting for that all day. You have no idea. You’ve played two iconic characters in my life - Pumbaa and Leon Carosi. When you got the role of Pumbaa was there any kind of voices that you were playing with that you may have tried out?

Ernie Sabella: I thought of Michael Gazzo from The Godfather.

Really? I love that movie.

Ernie Sabella: Do you remember that scene he says, [in Gazzo voice] “Mr. Corleone says do this! Mr. Corleone says do that.” [laughs]

That’s what it was based on.

Ernie Sabella: Well, I borrowed a little from Michael. Thank you. [laughs]

Disney The Lion King Animated Simba Timon Pumbaa

That’s amazing. Well, were there any scenes that may not have been on the page that you brought to life through ad libbing or through improvisation?

Ernie Sabella: We did a lot of ad libbing. I can’t remember what’s on the floor now. There was a lot of wonderful banter between Nathan Lane and me and I am so grateful that they let us fly off the page.

And you guys were in the booth together?

Ernie Sabella: We were the two that did every scene together and at that time they said Disney had never done that.


Ernie Sabella: Yeah. We were the first.


Ernie Sabella: Yep.

And after 23 years you have still been voicing Pumbaa. How’s that been? Would you have thought that’s what would happen?

Ernie Sabella: Yeah. Oh god no. I was hoping we would make the cut. I was hoping we would actually be in the movie when we’d go see it because it was just too good to be true. A dream! Here we were doing Guys and Dolls at night and in the day doing The Lion King.

So funny enough, when I saw the movie as a kid, I immediately recognized who you were because Leon Carosi.

Ernie Sabella: Right. Zach, you’re fired!

[laughs] That’s great. I’ve always wanted to hear you say that by the way. One of the questions I had was with The Lion Guard, your character has seen somewhat of an evolution.

Ernie Sabella: He’s Uncle Pumbaa.

The Lion King

Yeah. He’s Uncle Pumbaa. So now that he’s in this older role, how’s that feel?

Ernie Sabella: It feels good because I’m older. [laughs]

Of course.

Ernie Sabella: I’m wiser and Pumbaa is wiser.

What’s your favorite song from The Lion King? Because this film, every song is iconic. Every song is a classic and I heard it here last night and I just can’t get it out of my head. What’s your favorite song? I think I know what you’re going to say.

Ernie Sabella: Yeah. I think you do because my favorite song is Hakuna Makata. [laughs]

Me too. It means no worries.

Ernie Sabella: It means no worries and I loved how in the movie, because I didn’t know how they were going to do it, we kept singing and singing it. I thought, “This is a little fire camp song. What’s going on?” And it became this coming of age over the log, you know, child, teen, adult…

That’s amazing. And your chemistry with Nathan is amazing.

Ernie Sabella: Well, we had a twenty year friendship before that.


Ernie Sabella: Yeah. Broadway in New York. He’s not a big talker, you know? No, he’s very quiet.


Ernie Sabella: Very quiet. And I’m not. So, I would always be talking and every once in awhile he would say, “Shut up.”

So the chemistry you guys had played a huge role in Timon and Pumbaa’s relationship as well.

Ernie Sabella: Yeah. It did. I’m glad. I’m glad. He’s a genius and he’s a great guy, but he doesn’t talk much.

Lion King Nala Sexy Look Joke

Interesting. What’s your favorite scene from The Lion King?

Ernie Sabella: Hm. I think when Nala comes to see and bring him back to be king and they’re wrestling and pins her, when he realizes alright. I got to go back. I got to go back.

Interesting. It’s crazy because that’s not even a scene that you’re really in.

Ernie Sabella: I’m not in the scene. No.

Yeah. That’s interesting. So this has a lot of Blu-ray extras and I hear there is a part with you and Nathan in the booth. Have you seen any of that stuff yet?

Ernie Sabella: No. I can tell you I remember all of it so, whatever they show, I will be happy to see it again.

Disney’s The Lion King signature collection releases on Digital HD on August 15 and Blu-Ray on August 29. Thank you so much, Ernie.

Ernie Sabella: [Pumbaa voice] Go get it!

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