The Big Picture
- The Lion King featured Disney’s first-ever fart in a film, surprising audiences and adding a funny moment to the story.
- The inclusion of a fart scene in The Lion King was unexpected, especially coming after the tragic loss of Mufasa, but it provided a perfectly-timed reprieve from the seriousness.
- Disney’s creative freedom during the making of The Lion King allowed for experimentation, which led to the inclusion of the fart scene, making it a memorable and humorous moment in the film’s legacy.
The Lion King, 1994, is among the most treasured of Disney’s animated features, as well as one of its best live-action adaptations. The world of the African Pride Lands is beautifully realized, and within that world is a wealth of memorable characters. Surprisingly, it’s the first Disney animated film with a completely original storyline, with nods to Hamlet and Bambi. But did you know that at the end is another first for Disney films? Sorry, let me rephrase: did you know that at AN end is a first for Disney films? That end belongs to Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), and that first – no butts about it – is the first-ever fart in a Disney film.
That’s right. A fart, a toot, passed gas, an SBD (if you don’t know the acronym, don’t go looking for it), a seat rumbler. Whatever you call it, it took a whopping 57 years between Disney’s first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Lion King for Disney to record its first flatulence on film. There were certainly opportunities. Pinocchio‘s Pleasure Island was filled with boys, which are, by and large, the guiltiest of passing gas parties (there’s also a joke to be made about asses on the Island, but not for such a cultured piece like this). Same thing with the Lost Boys of Neverland in Peter Pan. Even Beauty and the Beast missed out on an easy queasy breezy by not adding “No one farts like Gaston” to Gaston’s (Richard White) boastful tune. However, it makes perfect sense for Pumbaa to be ‘the guy’ to let fly. Here’s why.
Pumbaa’s Historic First Is Flat(ulent) Out Funny
It seems almost ridiculous in hindsight, but for those that saw the film in theaters back in 1994, the moment was almost shocking but decidedly hilarious. To place it into context, Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) has run away from Pride Rock after the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), a death that he has been led to believe he caused by his devious uncle, Scar (the perfectly cast Jeremy Irons). Having collapsed in the desert, Simba is rescued by a pair of unlikely friends, a meerkat named Timon (Nathan Lane), and a warthog named Pumbaa. They take Simba back to their oasis and introduce him to their carefree motto, “Hakuna Matata” (“no worries” in Swahili), through song. During the song, Pumbaa’s sad tale of his life growing up is recounted, a young warthog who’s a sensitive soul, though he seems thick-skinned, and…
Wait, did that just happen? Yes, the warthog broke wind. But Pumbaa didn’t just cut the cheese passively. He let ‘er rip, killing the grass behind him and forcing his friends standing downwind to flee from the toxicity of it. Then, just in case the moment didn’t connect, Timon silences his friend with a “not in front of the children” just as Pumbaa is about to rhyme “down-hearted” with the now only-to-obvious word. So not only was there an audible fart in an animated film from a company that largely stayed away from toilet humor, but it was a legitimate, clear-the-room gas pass with hysterical reactions. It was unexpected, not only because it was the first such instance, but because of where it fits in the film, almost immediately following the tragic loss of Mufasa. It was a perfectly-timed reprieve from the seriousness of that loss. It came from the likeliest of candidates (seriously, when’s the last time you heard someone say, “What a lovely scent. Warthog?”). Most importantly, it was funny.
How Did Pumbaa’s Historic First Pass (Gas) Disney Inspection?
Given Disney’s tenacity in maintaining a certain family-friendly image, how on Earth did the creators of The Lion King slip the infamous moment through? For that, you can probably thank Pocahontas. The two films were being produced at the same time, with Pocahontas seen as the bigger fish of the two. It was a fair assessment at the time given the A-list talent working on it, with animator Aaron Blaise chalking up Pocahontas‘ aura of importance to the involvement of prestigious animator Glen Keane. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of The Walt Disney Company at the time, explained Pocahontas as West Side Story meets Dances With Wolves, and The Lion King as an experiment. That “experiment” descriptive came with the freedom to do just that: experiment. As co-director Rob Minkoff explains, “Believe me, I mean, that was the mood of our production was… We would try everything. Anything and everything. Like, what are we gonna do here? Let’s just try, because there’s no rules.” That un-Disney-like “hands-off” approach worked spectacularly, with The Lion King surpassing Pocahontas critically, financially, and in its legacy, farts and all.
The Lion King was a first for farting in a Disney animated film but was not the first time farting was heard on film. That prestigious moment would fall on Mel Brooks‘ classic Western spoof Blazing Saddles during the infamous campfire scene. Nevertheless, it stands as one of the few scenes from a Disney film that classifies as bathroom humor. What makes the feat even more impressive is knowing that had The Lion King not been given creative freedom the scene would very likely have not been included. Pure speculation? Not really. Just recently, Disney banned an entire episode of the popular Australian cartoon series Bluey from airing on Disney Plus. The reason: the father in the show farts. It is just a stark reminder that Disney is fiercely protective of its image, and aims higher with the humorous content in its programming. But for one brief, shining, stinky moment, Disney let its guard down and gave The Lion King one of the funniest bits in the film, a moment that is all it was cracked up to be. A moment even funnier in hindsight. A moment that is a gas every time you see it. A moment so rare and so funny that if it were an Egyptian pharaoh, it would be Toot-un-common. A moment… well, you get the drift.