Disney Days of Yore: Back
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Disneyland is proud to present its spectacular festival of nighttime magic and imagination. In thousands of twinkling lights and electro-synthetic-magnetic musical sounds: the Main Street Electrical Parade. – Introduction
There’s a tried and true saying that no good idea ever dies at Disney. The same can be said about a big parade. The Main Street Electrical Parade has had a long and storied history that spans fifty years at the majority of Disney resorts (but primarily the American type).
While Disney Days of Yore remembers and celebrates the attractions of yesteryear, this particular installment feels a bit more Haunted Mansion-inspired. The end of one life leads to the beginning of another, and in doing so, the party begins again. The Main Street Electric Parade has passed. And I came back, and I left. And come back again. You get the point. Let’s try to sort through this confusing bit of Disney parks charm.
Inspiration on the water
In October 1971, Disneyland’s younger sibling – Walt Disney World – opened in Orlando, Florida. Magic Kingdom – the resort’s first signature park – drew heavily on the concepts, themes and attractions that were used so successfully in California.
One advantage Magic Kingdom had that Disneyland didn’t was a significant amount of space. A major drawback? Lots and lots of water. At Disneyland, guests could park in a lot in front of the front door. However, Magic Kingdom guests parked on a lot across from the Seven Seas Lagoon from the park. Transportation of the car to the park was provided either by ferryboat or by monorail. While both of these offerings were unique experiences, they also added another level of hassle for tired customers at the end of a long day in the park.
True to Walt Disney’s philosophy of always “enhancing” the guest experience, the Walt Disney World Imagineers treated those cloudy-eyed evening guests to one final treat: the Electric Water Show. This aquatic parade consisted of fourteen 25-foot-tall screens decorated with electric lights. The floats gently skirted the lagoon in the evening, offering guests on the ferryboats or in the entrance plaza a kind of goodnight kiss – eliciting a final smile before heading back to the car.
Turn on the lights in Anaheim
Shortly after the Electric Water Contest debuted at Walt Disney World, Disney executive Card Walker wanted to bring a similar experience to Disneyland. Walker commissioned the development of what would be called the Main Street Electrical Parade.
Created by Robert Jani and led by Ron Miziker, the parade combined live performers, parade floats and more than 500,000 hand-tinted light bulbs. The parade used the parade’s first automated show control program to give every spectator in the parade an equal experience. The show also featured one of the most famous pieces of music in Disney Parks history – “Baroque Hoedown” – originally created in 1967 by synthesizer pioneers Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley.
The original electric parade floats included the Blue Fairy, a large drum driven by the Casey Jr. Engine, Cinderella, a Chinese dragon, a circus calliope, and the American flag finale, among others. Later versions of the parade filtered into floats and figures from Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Dumbo, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchioand pete’s dragon.
The parade made its first official run down Disneyland’s main street in June 1972, but not before suffering a few pre-opening mishaps. During a rehearsal, a float crashed into a building on Main Street and some performers’ costumes sparkled, triggering security concerns. But after the hectic rehearsals, the parade got off to a successful start, beginning the first of thousands of trips down Main Street in the United States.
Understanding the X’s and O’s of when, where and how the parade happened at different Disney parks requires a PhD in Disney history. You can read those dizzying details herebut to hit the highlights and keep the fantasy going, let’s look at the parade highlights by park.
After its debut in June 1972, the parade ran fairly steadily until 1996, but not without undergoing some changes. The original parade layout only lasted two years, then was briefly replaced with a different “America on Parade” theme that lasted another two years. A revamped Electric Parade ran from June 1977 to November 1996 (with another break from 1983 to 1985).
The parade moved to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1999, replacing the original version of the Magic Kingdom which had moved to Disneyland Park in Paris in April 1992. After a short two-year run in Florida, the Electric Parade was packed and moved back to California – but not to Disneyland. For this race, the parade marched to help save the struggling Disney California Adventure Park, which had opened to disappointing reviews and low attendance. With no main street to walk on, the parade took on the nickname “Disney’s Electrical Parade” and ran from July 2001 to April 2010.
Since leaving Disney California Adventure in 2010, the Main Street Electrical Parade has made two returns to Disneyland, in 2017 and 2019. And it’s returning very soon, in April 2022.
Walt Disney World
What goes around comes around. After the Electric Water Pageant inspired a successful Electric Water Pageant at Disneyland, a nearly exact copy of the California pageant was built for Magic Kingdom, where it opened in June 1977. The only difference between the pageants – barely noticeable for occasional guests – was the fact that the floats were a bit wider for the Florida parade, since Magic Kingdom’s main street was a bit wider than Disneyland’s.
This original version of Magic Kingdom took place from June 1977 to September 1991. After this fourteen year run, the Magic Kingdom parade was sent to Europe to Disneyland Park in Paris, where it ran for almost eleven years .
The Main Street Electrical Parade performed two return engagements in Magic Kingdom. The Disneyland parade returned and ran from May 1999 to April 2001, then June 2010 to October 2016. So what about the two eight-year gaps between the most recent races? These were filled with a small parade called…
“Welcome to the splendor, the spectacle, the sparkling sensation, where the romance, comedy and thrill of Disney fantasies come to electric life. And now the Magic Kingdom proudly presents, in a million musical dots of light, the magical worlds from Disney… in SpectroMagic!- Introduction
A great replacement for the Main Street Electrical Parade, SpectroMagic was introduced in 1991 as part of Magic Kingdom’s 20th anniversary celebration. The parade featured Mickey Mouse and the SpectroMagic Spectromen, who together created the power of SpectroMagic. Following Mickey’s intro, the parade featured five themes, including Silly Symphonies, Sleeping Beauty’s Garden, The Little Mermaid’s Ocean, Fantasia, and The Grand Disney Cavalcade.
SpectroMagic was a giant parade consisting of 39 floats, over 45 Disney characters, 14 Spectromen and eight butterflies. After two successful runs in Magic Kingdom, Disney retired the parade for good in 2013.
Tokyo Disneyland installed its own version of the parade called Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade, where it ran from March 1985 to June 1995. The parade ran successfully for ten years, after which it was renovated into “Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights”, where he continues to run to the present day.
Disneyland Park (Paris)
As mentioned in the Walt Disney World section above, the original Magic Kingdom version of the Main Street Electrical Parade moved to Disneyland Park in Paris in April 1992. Several floats from the Anaheim and Tokyo parades were sent to Paris in 1997 to add to the show. In total, the Paris parade lasted almost eleven years, ending in March 2003. It was replaced by Disney’s Fantillusion, which had previously run for six years at Tokyo Disneyland.
The long and winding road
As you can see, the many lives of the Main Street Electrical Parade form a long and rich chronicle of highlights. Parade fans are relishing fond memories of where and when they watched those 500,000 spinning lights, snails, dragons and flags.
The legendary parade paraded through five Disney parks and even made one-time appearances in New York City (as a variation called “Hercules Electrical Parade” in June 1997) and at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida (during mid- time of the Orange Bowl college football game).
Fans of the original Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade, fear not. The parade returns in April 2022 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. According to Disney Parks Blog, the parade will feature “an all-new enchanted grand finale that celebrates the theme of unity.” The American Flag finale has been redesigned to be more inclusive and will now feature a version of the Inspired by Mary Blair dolls from the classic Disney attraction “It’s a Small World”. The dolls will represent over a dozen popular Disney movies, including Brave, Coco, Moana, Frozen, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, Encanto and more, as well as the return of the Blue Fairy.
Bring your tissues. Tears are likely to flow.
If you can’t make it to Disneyland for this limited-time engagement, you can get your electric parade fix here, courtesy of ITM:
Stay tuned for more articles in this series. We will continue to explore many other former Walt Disney World attractions and experiences, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Sources referenced in writing this article include:
country of yesteryear
Disney Parks Blog
Check out the other coins in our series, including:
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