In the upcoming photo-realistic remake of The Lion King, Seth Rogen takes on the role of the lovable and carefree warthog Pumbaa. It’s not the actor’s first foray into the realm of voice acting, he previously starred in the Kung Fu Panda series and Sausage Party, but it was a different filming experience alongside Timon actor Billy Eichner. That difference made Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa one of the actor’s ‘most naturalistic’ performances, as he explained:
We were actually together. That was really different, and you can tell when you watch the movie. Our rapport is incredibly naturalistic, and we really play off one another in a way that would have been impossible if we weren’t actually there in the room together. Weirdly it’s one of the most naturalistic performances I’ve ever given, and I play a warthog.
It is common in animated movies, which for all intents and purposes The Lion King essentially is, to have the voice cast record their dialogue at different times. This was the case with Woody and Buzz actors, and real life friends Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in Toy Story 4. But for The Lion King, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner actually got to record their dialogue together and from the sound of it, that had a huge impact on the performances.
As Seth Rogen told Variety, he and Billy Eichner were together for the recording and were able to build a natural rapport versus just acting by themselves. Therefore, they were able to play off one another and have that bond that best friends Timon and Pumbaa share in the story come though in their performances. That realistic interaction with his co-star made Seth Rogen’s performance his most naturalistic, even though he was playing a grub-loving warthog.
Plenty of animated films get by just fine without having the actors in the same room, but for Seth Rogen, he doesn’t think that the back and forth between Timon and Pumbaa would have been as natural if he and Billy Eichner had recorded their dialogue separately. And for two characters whose dynamic is beloved in the original movie and crucial to the comedy in this one, that is important.
Billy Eichner, the voice of meerkat Timon, echoed Seth Rogen’s sentiments. He said:
It’s a beautiful transformation. Seth is absolutely right: Usually because of logistics or people’s schedules, you record your part separate from the other voice actors, and they just edit it together in post and make it sound like you were all in the same room. For this movie, we were always together. Even the scenes with Donald, we were all there for ‘Hakuna Matata.’ It allowed us to really lean into our improv skills. I haven’t seen the final cut, but from the rough cut we’re overlapping with each other so you can just sense we’re in the room together. It makes all the difference in the world.
Whether audiences will ultimately be able to tell the difference or not, it seems that the recording process for The Lion King was a rewarding one for all involved. Scheduling usually makes recording all together difficult, but they somehow made it work for Jon Favreau’s remake and that allowed the actors to actually act opposite one another, creating for a more authentic performance.
As Billy Eichner revealed, it wasn’t just Timon and Pumbaa, asince Donald Glover, who voices Simba, was also on hand for the ‘Hakuna Matata’ scene. A recent featurette from the film gave us a glimpse of this collaboration, with professional musician Glover complimenting Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner’s singing. This approach to recording allowed for some real improvisation that will hopefully result in some fun dialogue that helps to differentiate the remake from the iconic 1994 original.
The Lion King is breaking pre-sales records and could be one of the films to save a rather disappointing summer at the box office. We’ll see how it all turns out when The Lion King roars into theaters on July 19. Check out our premiere guide to keep track of all the other big movies still to come in the second half of this year.