D23: Disney Assembles 'The Lion Guard' In New Animated Series

The world of "The Lion King" will expand in the new Disney Junior cartoon series "The Lion Guard," which was previewed to attendees of Disney's D23Expo in Anaheim on Sunday afternoon.

The "Lion King" spinoff series, set to debut on the Disney Channel in early 2016, follows Simba and Nala's second-born cub Kion and his team of animals assembled to protect the Pride Lands. In November, ahead of the series' 2016 debut, a primetime movie titled "The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar" will air, introducing viewers to this new status quo. James Earl Jones and Ernie Sabella will reprise their movie roles as Mufasa and Pumbaa the Warthog in the new series, while Rob Lowe and Gabrielle Union will voice Kion's parents Simba and Nala. Max Charles stars as Kion.

Don Hahn, the producer of 1994's original "Lion King" film, was introduced to the crowd at D23 and danced on stage behind four musicians playing African drums. When the music ended, Hahn reminded the audience of the "Lion King." The film, released over twenty years ago, has spawned DVD sequels, a spinoff TV series and a smash Broadway musical. After a video package touting the history of "The Lion King" was shown to the audience, Hahn informed the audience that the new series will carry on the legacy of the original movie by continuing the story of the film's characters, but it will also introduce many new characters into the mythology.

Hahn then introduced the man in charge of the new series -- Executive Producer Ford Riley -- who explained the concept of the new series. "At the beginning of the original movie, there is an image that everyone remembers -- the image of Mufasa holding up the first-born cub who will grow up to be the Lion King," said Riley. "Simba does the same with his first-born cub at the end of the film, but what about the second-born? Where do they fit into the Circle of Life? That's our story -- the story of the Lion Guard."

Riley explained that the traditional role of the second-born is to lead the Lion Guard -- a team of animals that defends the Pride Lands and protects the Circle of Life. Kion decides to go against tradition though and, rather than call upon the fastest and fiercest animals to join the guard, instead calls upon his friends. A hippopotamus named Beshte (Dusan Brown), a confident cheetah named Fuji (Diamond White), an intellectual egret named Ono (Atticus Shaffer) and a fearless honey badger named Bunga (Joshua Rush) make up the team. Together they learn to utilize each of their unique abilities to solve problems and accomplish tasks to maintain the balance with the Circle of Life.

Kion has been given a gift called "the Roar of the Elders." When he uses the "roar," all of the previous pride leaders -- including James Earl Jones' Mufasa -- roar with him. This explains the presence of Mufasa, who died in 1994's feature film, in the series.

But why did we not see the Lion Guard in the previous films? Riley explained that that long before Simba was born, Mufasa's brother Scar -- who killed him in the original film -- was indeed the leader of the Lion Guard and he too had the power of the Roar of the Elders. He wanted to use the old Lion Guard to help him kill Mufasa. When they refused, Scar used the Roar of the Elders to destroy them. What Scar didn't know was that using the power for evil would cause him to lose the power, and that is how he became the Scar we saw in the first film.

"Kion will learn that the power can be used for great good but also for terrible evil," Riley explained. "When we first meet Kion, he doesn't know anything about this power. He doesn't even know what the Lion Guard is."

The series, which has consultants on board from Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, will aim to educate young viewers about African wildlife.

Riley then introduced a trailer for the new series which was followed by a fantastic live musical performance of an original song from the show by musician Beau Black, who was joined on stage by seven singers and drummers.

The hour-long television film "The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar" will air on the Disney Channel in November; "The Lion Guard" series follows in January 2016.

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