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More Proof That It's a Jungle Out There

October 22, 1998|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hey boys and girls, moms and dads, the new word for today is upendi, Swahili for love. It's one you'll be hearing a lot--that is, if the Walt Disney Home Video folks have anything to do with it, and boy do they.

Tuesday night, at a video premiere and party in Westwood for "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride," more than 1,000 guests were among the first to view--and embrace--the upendi-filled sequel.

The video, which goes on sale Tuesday ($26.99), reunites the voices of Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Ernie Sabella and James Earl Jones from the Oscar-winning original. New characters' voices are provided by Neve Campbell, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Andy Dick and Moira Kelly.

Several of the stars--including Guillaume, Marsden, Pleshette, Kelly and Dick as well as director Darrell Rooney, producer Jeannine Roussel, co-director Rob LaDuca and screenwriters Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus--attended the premiere and bash at the Wadsworth Theater. It was all, well, straight out of Africa: Guests followed the beat of African drums from the theater to a tent along a safari walk while an amazing menagerie of elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, chimpanzees, Bengal tigers and panthers roamed the spacious grounds (with trainers).

Also taking part in the night's festivities--some with their kids in tow--were Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, David Hasselhoff, Rick Schroeder, Buddy Hackett, Leeza Gibbons, Cassandra Petersen, Charlton Heston, A Martinez, Charles Shaughnessey, Robert Townsend, Matt LeBlanc, Paula Poundstone, Danika McKellar, Teri Garr, Carrie Fisher and Donny Osmond.

Inside the tent, party-goers stood in awe of a spectacular production of sight, sound and motion conceived by Disney's Dan Kough, a special events manager who called the event--two months in the making--"a one-night wonder."

The tent--magnificently lit--was transformed into the whimsical African palace of the ancient kingdom of Kush, ruled by a high priestess played by Fredericka Meek. In an African-print costume, Meek kicked off a 20-minute, Cirque-du-Soleil-in-the-jungle production with 41 dancers, singers, actors and Chinese acrobats in animal costumes. Highlights were Lebo M crooning "He Lives in You" and Kenny Lattimore and Heather Headley singing "Love Will Find a Way."

Marcus and Kobler (who are married to each other) said they worked on the film's script for about two years. "The message of this movie would have to be that we are one," Marcus said, wearing a blazer decorated with a giraffe and zebra painted by her husband. "That we are all interconnected, and each individual is as important as the whole."

Director Rooney said he learned "how deeply some of the messages in this film resonate with me. The idea that you need to let go of hatred, let go of anger in order to be complete and whole in yourself. . . . I think it's a really simple but also sophisticated message for grown-ups and children."

Pleshette, who plays a wicked mother ("I had good training when I played Leona Helmsley") and who belts out a song in the movie, couldn't have agreed more. "This was a very interesting sequel because it has a wonderful theme that love can unite people," she said. "And what could be a better message to send to children these days if not a message about love?"

Now, that's upendi.

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