Billy Eichner Explains How That Disney Reference Made It Into The Lion King – & His Pride One That Didn't
Warning: If you haven't seen the new Lion King, this article contains a spoiler. (Yes, that is possible for a remake!)
If you, armed with a wave of nostalgia and a craving for new Beyoncé music, made it to the theatre to see the the newest Disney remake, you now know the majesty, the hilarity, the beauty (couldn't resist that one) of the giant, unexpected Disney reference in 2019's The Lion King.
We're talking, of course, about Timon's rendition of "Be Our Guest" that appears when Pumbaa is served up as live bait in the third act of the recreation of the 1994 film. How a meerkat in the middle of Africa even knows the lyrics to Lumier's anthem from Beauty and the Beast is about as important as asking how a lion is able to dance and sing with a warthog that he should actually have eaten, so instead, I asked what inspired such a reference. And as it turns out, the man behind the meerkat, Billy Eichner, was only about fifty percent sure the joke would even work.
"I looked at Jon and I said, 'That is either going to kill or you can't use it,'" Eichner tells Refinery29, explaining that he sang the first five (and a half) lines of "Be Our Guest" at the behest of renowned Disney fan, portrayer of Happy Hogan in the Marvel movies, and director of The Lion King, Jon Favreau.
"They put it in and it killed last night during the [premiere] and I looked at Jon and was like, 'You know what you're doing, Jon Favreau."
Favreau says he got the idea from the Broadway version of The Lion King. "They threw a joke about Frozen in there," he said at the Lion King press conference in early July. "So we kind of toss the cap to another live action adaptation."
But being that Favreau's preferred style for much of the comedy in the new Lion King was improvisation, there were also quite a few other references that stayed on the cutting room floor, denied their own Beauty and the Beast moment.
There's a lot of talk, of course, of Pride Rock in this movie and so, of course, I had Timón have moments saying 'Happy Pride!' a couple of times in a way that did not ultimately make it into the movie. I didn't expect it to, but they made me happy at the time.
"Some of those recording sessions went on and on and on, so by the end you're loopy and you just become like teenagers and jokes are coming out of your mouth and you kind of forget that it's a Disney movie. You just start riffing the way you would at some late night improv show," says Eichner. "There's a lot of good stuff [we didn't use] that is very, very inappropriate."
Eichner's favourite lost bit wasn't inappropriate, though, and in fact, and would have added a little more LGBTQ representation (however slight) to the studio's catalogue.
"There's a lot of talk, of course, of Pride Rock in this movie and so, of course, I had Timón have moments saying 'Happy Pride!' a couple of times in a way that did not ultimately make it into the movie. I didn't expect it to, but they made me happy at the time," says Eichner with a laugh. "All the talk of Pride Rock always made me laugh a little as the one openly gay member of the cast."
I suppose we'll have to wait for someone to upload the iTunes extras to YouTube and hope some of those Pride Rock references at least made the cut for what sounds like a very worthwhile deleted scenes reel. But at the very least, Eichner can rest assured that after this, we'll never be able to look at Simba's kingdom ever again without thinking the words, "Happy Pride!"