By Beth Deitchman
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—even in the Pride Lands, where Kion, Bunga, Beshte, and the rest of the Lion Guard are getting into the holiday spirit with Timon and Pumbaa. On a special episode of Disney Junior’s The Lion Guard, “Timon and Pumbaa’s Christmas,” which debuts Friday, December 8, at 11:30 a.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel, Bunga wants to surprise his uncles with the most amazing Christmas celebration ever, so he enlists the entire Lion Guard (and their families) to create a merry and musical memory for Timon and Pumbaa (and for us!).
The idea for the special episode came to executive producer Ford Riley and songwriter Beau Black during another holiday season, while they attended an L.A. Kings hockey game together—and were inundated by Christmas songs that played in the arena during breaks in the action. As Riley remembers, “Beau leaned over to me and said, ‘Dude, we’ve got to write a Christmas song.’” Riley thought about the Pride Lands population and wondered whether they’d celebrate a human holiday such as Christmas, and then found himself thinking, “Timon and Pumbaa seem to have a wider knowledge of the world. Maybe if they heard about it from an ox, who heard it from a yellow wagtail, who heard it from a flying reindeer…” The rest, as they say, is ho-ho-holiday history.
“Timon and Pumbaa’s Christmas” is filled with holiday traditions viewers of all ages will recognize, but with a Lion Guard twist. The Lion Guard decorates their own Christmas tree but it’s a baobab, rather than a fir, and it’s adorned with ornaments of star fruits and gourds, as well as a garland of flowers. The big, bright star that signals the holiday’s arrival is inspired by the original animated feature, Riley explains. “Timon and Pumbaa are very aware of stars,” he says, adding, “Pumbaa thinks they’re big balls of gas. We’re trying to walk the line between what you would see in a traditional Christmas episode and what you’d expect to see in the world of The Lion Guard.” So don’t be surprised to hear younger fans singing a familiar melody with new lyrics—“Jungle Smells,” anyone?
Since Christmas music inspired the special episode, new songs were priority. Black thought about the show’s legacy, as well as the enduring nature of Christmas songs. Families often watch favorite holiday specials years after year, so he hopes there will always be an appreciation for this episode. Black admits to being very particular about Christmas songs, so he thought, “If I were to listen to Christmas songs, which ones would I listen to?” He typically gravitates toward contemporary, ’60s-style Christmas songs along the lines of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” so honey badger Bunga belts out the original song “Christmas in the Pride Lands” with a Darlene Love-inspired performance that will surely have fans listening to the tune for Christmases to come.
The episode’s other new song, “The Twelve Ways of Christmas,” is a unique interpretation of the classic “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The tune may be familiar but, Black confesses, this was the most challenging song they’ve done since the series premiered. “It was very challenging to make it work for the animation and get all those “12 ways” in, allow every character to have their moment, and not make it 10 minutes long.” Our friends at Disney Junior have given us the gift of the music video of the song, which they’re sharing with D23 in advance of Friday’s premiere:
You can also check out “Christmas in the Pride Lands” and songs from other favorite animated series on the just-released album Disney Junior Music Holiday Hits, a new digital compilation album available now. And after the holidays are over, The Lion Guard may be coming your way as part of the Disney Junior Dance Party On Tour live stage show, launching March 14 in Southern California and performing 50 shows across the country. Visit DisneyJuniorTour.com to learn more.