Disneyland has been running parades since soon after the park opened. But when people in Southern California back then thought about parades, they weren't nearly as likely to think of Disneyland as they were to think about Pasadena's famous Tournament of Roses Parade. Stepping off every January 1 (or, on January 2 when the first falls on a Sunday), the Rose Parade offers a procession of flower- and plant-covered displays that wows millions of television viewers around the world.
A procession of Disney characters, while nice, didn't offer the gimmick that the Rose Parade's floral floats did. What could Disney do to compete — to make a Disney event as famous as the Rose Parade?
In 1972, Disney found its answer. The Walt Disney World Resort had opened the year before, and one of its new attractions was a procession of light-covered floats on the Seven Seas Lagoon, in front of the Magic Kingdom. The Electrical Water Pageant entertained guests awaiting their monorail or ferry rides back to the Transportation and Ticket Center in the evening. The next year, Disney copied the concept for a new night-time parade at Disneyland: The Main Street Electrical Parade.
If the Rose Parade covered every inch of its floats in flowers and other plant material, The Main Street Electrical Parade covered its floats in something even more visually spectacular — thousands of colorful, twinkling lights. And the "ELP" (as cast members called it) offered something else that the Rose Parade never had — a theme song that would become one of Disney's most enduring earworms.
"Baroque Hoedown" debuted in 1967, a song by Moog synthesizer musicians Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley. Disney used it in the Electrical Water Pageant, but its inclusion in the Main Street Electrical Parade made it one of the most famous tunes in theme park history. Here's the original version:
Disney coordinated the music with the parade's floats through the use of a first-of-its-kind show control system that broke the parade route into distinct zones, where speakers would be triggered as the floats drove past. The combination of the lively music and sparkling floats made the Electrical Parade an immediate hit, and it played for nearly 25 years at Disneyland. Copies of the parade opened at the Magic Kingdom in 1977 and Tokyo Disneyland in 1985. When the parade closed at the Magic Kingdom in 1991, its floats were sent to Disneyland Paris, where the Main Street Electrical Parade opened the next spring.
Disneyland closed the Main Street Electrical Parade in November 1996, replacing it with Light Magic the next spring. Light Magic might have been the Internet's first victim in the theme park industry. Disney had made bank with Annual Passholder events and souvenir sales for the closing of the Main Street Electrical Parade and tried to replicate that business success with a $25-per-person AP preview event for Light Magic. Except... the show wasn't ready and many elements failed during what the park tried to pass off at the last minute as a dress rehearsal. Fans flooded the alt.disney.disneyland Usenet group with complaints, and even Disney's PR machine couldn't stop the damage. The bad reviews continued as the show opened officially that summer. Light Magic closed that fall, never to run again.
A refurbished Main Street Electrical Parade returned to Disney California Adventure in 2001 as Disney's Electrical Parade, in an attempt to bolster that park's originally disappointing attendance. But no nighttime electrical parade has played at Disneyland since.
Until this weekend, when Paint the Night debuts.
Paint the Night first stepped off at Hong Kong Disneyland last fall. Billed as Disney's first-ever fully LED parade, Paint the Night features more than 740,000 individual lights on seven units themed to various Disney franchises. The parade pays tribute to the Main Street Electrical Parade by using Baroque Hoedown as a musical motif throughout. You can see the entire Hong Kong version of the parade below:
If you are wondering about the name, Hong Kong Disneyland has been selling light-up, interactive "paintbrushes," with which guests can change the colors of the lights on performers by waving the brushes at them, effectively allowing viewers to "paint the night."
The Disneyland version of Paint the Night will add a Frozen-themed "Frozen Fractals" parade unit, a recreation of Elsa's ice castle followed by dancers made to look like snowflakes. UPDATE: Here is a look at that new float, just released by Disney:
Paint the Night's modern LEDs allow the parade a much livelier visual appearance than the Main Street Electrical Parade's mid-20th-century technology of blinking fairy lights. Throw in a collection of beloved Disney franchises, with a modern remix of the original electrical parade's theme song to tie them all together, and Disneyland might, finally, have a worthy successor to the parade that made Disney parades famous.
Or, at the very least, we'll now have something that will help more people finally get over that Light Magic mess.
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