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THE LINE THAT ROARS : March of 'The Lion King' Characters Is on as Disney Unleashes Its Newest Parade Attraction

June 30, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to the Times Orange County Edition.

To paraphrase a passage from Disney's new animated film, "The Lion King," the dancing leop ards are in a bit of a spot, the monkeys make apes of themselves on the floats, and you just can't forget the "puppetronic" elephant.

And those are just some of the noteworthy elements in "The Lion King Celebration" parade, which will be presented twice daily at Disneyland throughout the summer starting on Friday.

"We've never used an Audio-Animatronic (character) in a parade before," said show director Robert Ponce. "That's Zazu the bird. We have two 10-foot-long remote-controlled crocodiles and three remote-controlled bugs including a scorpion and a dung beetle. We've got probably the most extensive puppets ever built, worked by a puppeteer so movements are more fluid than robotic-type puppetry.

"We also have waterfalls on the floats, and a release of white pigeons every day. We stock about 400 homing pigeons to be able to do it. Actually, they go to La Habra Heights and they're shipped back in the mornings."

If you thought the "Aladdin" parade was magic, a banner quoting the genie at the end of that procession says it all: "I'm outta here!" The Aladdin version makes its final run today.

The movie "The Lion King" opens with the presentation of the newborn Simba, heir of Mufasa, king of beasts. It isn't long before Simba's evil uncle, Scar, is getting the young lion cub into all kinds of trouble, with lifelong repercussions, despite the watchful eye of major-domo Zazu, a hornbill. Scar's henchmen include a trio of hyenas.

When Simba's father dies, the cub flees in undeserved shame, but he is lucky enough to meet a pair of "no-worries" sidekicks, wart hog Pumbaa and meerkat Timon. Rafiki, the shaman-like baboon, gets Simba back on the right track.

Each section of the "Lion King" parade--which is a street show representing the African continent from the rain forest to the Serengeti--represents a different passage in Simba's life from cub to king. The production features more than 85 performers.

Zazu and Rafiki lead the parade. Disney-adorable puppetronic characters include walk-about blinking rhinoceroses and 17-foot-tall ear-wiggling giraffes. (Puppetronic refers to both electronic and manual moving parts, the latter worked by a person inside the costume.) Rain sticks, gourds and drums are handed out to parade-watchers, to make the production interactive. You do have to give the instruments back, though.

The tropical rain forest float actually "rains," but there were even more realistic touches at a preview on Sunday. It seemed hot as a savannah, for instance, and Whoopi Goldberg, the voice of one the film's hyenas, was among spectators who baked in the afternoon sun.

According to Disney spokesman John McClintock, Goldberg expressed disappointment that the parade didn't feature hyenas. But, McClintock explained, "The parade all takes place after the story is over, at which point the hyenas have been driven from the pride lands." Cheech Marin, who also played a hyena, and Ernie Sabella, voice of wart hog Pumbaa, also attended.

A 650-member choir singing the African-style songs lent the preview event the air of a roof-raising gospel celebration, but the parade will have to settle for humbler backup on an everyday basis. A studio mix of the music is planned.

The parade route runs from Small World past the Matterhorn and down Main Street U.S.A. The song "Just Can't Wait to be King," from Simba's carefree cub days, accompanies the parade as it travels, while the more emotional "Circle of Life" plays out in stationary presentations along the route.

The music by Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice proved so infectious that, even at a truncated version of the parade contrived for media photo opportunities earlier that afternoon, park visitors fell in behind like a scene right out of "The Music Man."

The parade tries to provide something for all ages. At the preview, youngsters delighted in the crocodiles, who came up to them jaws agape, and gazed up in wonder and admiration at Simba and Nala (his girlfriend), on their 31-foot-high float. Adults universally seemed taken with the dancing. By comparison, the "Aladdin" parade looked positively static.

Though the "Lion King" parade is a spin-off from the movie, one spectator, Donna Fiske of Fountain Valley, felt it actually eclipsed the screen version.

"I liked the movie, too, but the parade was better," Fiske said. "It generated more of a feeling of excitement."

Where and When

What: "The Lion King Celebration" parade.

When: Friday, July 1, through Sept. 5, at 2 and 4:30 p.m daily. (Call for time after Sept. 5.)

Where: Disneyland, 1313 Harbor Blvd., Anaheim.

Whereabouts: Take the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the Harbor Boulevard exit and head south.

Wherewithal: Free with Disneyland admission: adults, $31; children, $25.

Where to call: (714) 999-4565.

* Kids call "The Lion King" "emotional" and "interesting." Page 16

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