New Year's in Pasadena

Southern California Attractions: Robert shares his day at the Rose Parade, and offers his thoughts on Disney's untraditional Tower of Terror float.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 1, 2004 at 5:53 PM
Happy New Year from Theme Park Insider World Headquarters in lovely Pasadena, California!

It's New Year's in Pasadena, so it's time once again to schlep out of bed early and stake out a place for the family to watch the annual Rose Parade. This year, thank goodness, we've got a traditional match-up of Big Ten and Pac-10 college football teams in the Rose Bowl game. That means tens of thousands of eager Michigan fans in town all this week. Quite a welcomed change from the past two years, when the Rose Bowl's seen relatively meager crowds turning out for games featuring teams from other conferences. I'm a graduate for two Big Ten schools and an instructor at a Pac-10 school, and a SoCal native who went to high school in Indiana. So the Big Ten/Pac-10 match-up in the Rose Bowl is part of my culture. I'm thrilled to see it back.

Let's talk about the parade, shall we? This year, theme park fans are awaiting the return of Disneyland to the float lineup, as the resort's sponsoring a float this year for the first time in many parades. It's the tallest float in Rose Parade history, too -- featuring a 100-foot replica of the Tower of Terror.

Laurie and the kids saw many of the floats over the past two days, during the Tournament of Roses' Family Fest at the Rose Bowl. Several floats were on display (or being decorated) as part of the festivities, but Laurie and the kids didn't get to see the Disneyland float. So we'll get our first look at it along with everyone else this morning.

The Rose Parade route is intimdating. More than five miles long, the route begins one block south of Colorado Boulevard on Orange Grove, on the western edge of Pasadena. TV viewers see the parade at the beginning of the route, as participants make the sharp, 110-degree turn off Orange Grove onto Colorado, in front of the Norton Simon Museum. After the passing the TV cameras, marchers endure a grueling four-mile stretch on Colorado, finally turning north on Sierra Madre Boulevard, and dipping under Interstate 210 to the parade's finish near Pasadena's Victory Park.

There, participating floats remain on display for several days during the Tournament's final event, a float viewing festival. Of course, there seems to be an exception to that tradition this year. (Can you see this one coming yet?)

Anyway, I usually get up before 6 a.m. on New Year's Day and walk the three blocks from our home to the corner of Colorado and Sierra Madre, where I set down four lawn chairs in the intersection, as soon as the police close it shortly after 7 a.m. But this year, the parents of one of my daughter's school friends invited us to join them near their home farther north on Sierra Madre. That meant an extra hour of sleep for me, as other would save the seats this year. Count us in!

There are somewhere around 100,000 paid bleacher seats on the parade route, selling from $50-$90 each. But space along the curb is free: first come, first served. Officially, no one's supposed to claim space on the sidewalk until noon on New Year's Eve. But inevitably, folks start camping two days in advance for prime spaces.

Laurie, the kids and I made the long walk up the parade route to meet our friends north of the Interstate at about 9 a.m. Even though the parade starts at 8 a.m., the first units didn't make it down to our position, two blocks from the finish until 9:45. And the final units didn't pass until noon. That's *four hours* from the first unit's step off until the last one finishes. I cannot imagine how sore members from the two college bands must feel at the end of the day, marching in a 5-1/2 mile parade, then going to the Rose Bowl, where they play throughout the game, plus a half-time show. The parade itself seems enough to do one in. And it does, as the white vans carrying fallen and fatigued band members throughout the parade attest. One chap, who hadn't dropped out, passed by me with a face bloodied from his chip strap scraping against it for the long march. Makes you want to clap extra loud, and wave extra long to give these marchers encouragement to make it through to the end.

The floats, as always, delight. Yes, every inch of every float is covered in organic material -- brussel sprouts for dragon and alligator scales, banana leaves for cactus skin and, of course, thousands and thousands of roses.

Disneyland's float appears about one-third the way into the parade. Before I comment on it, let me back up to let you know that the theme of this year's parade was "Music, Music, Music." It is traditional (that word again!) for float sponsors to acknowledge the year's theme in their float's design. Indeed, float designs that merely promote a company's product or service are strongly discouraged by the Tournament of Roses, and not appreciated by the crowd. We want to see humor, fantasy and whimsy -- not rolling commercials.

A Rooter-Rooter float that depicted a flooded home drew a few jeers from folks near me who thought it looked to much like a promotion for the company's service, rather than a tribute to the parade's theme or the spirit of the day.

That said, Disneyland offered the slightest possible nod to this year's Rose Parade theme. Disney's titled its two-float entry "A Sudden Drop in Pitch," but beyond that, the floats offered nothing more than a straight representation of California Adventure and the new Tower of Terror.

Don't mistake me. The immense height of the trailing Tower float impressed the crowd. We got to see the Tower pitch forward to duck under the 210 overpass, emerging back to its full height as it passed us. An impressive engineering feet.

But, c'mon Disney, this is the Rose Parade. Not a preshow float for the Main Street Electrical Parade. Other corporations recognize that this a time to put aside overtly commercial messages and build a little goodwill with the audience -- their market. But Disney instead decided to flog California Adventure at us, and pimp a new ride.

Bad show, Disney.

But wait, it gets worse. On the back page of the Calendar Weekend section of this morning's L.A. Times, Disney has an ad promoting its float's appearance at DCA from Jan. 2 - 19. Say what? That means the float won't be joining all the others from the parade in the traditional post-parade display. Instead, Disney's hauling it back to Anaheim and putting it on display for paying customers to DCA.

Tacky, tacky, tacky.

I'm going to assume that Disneyland's previous administration made these decisions, and that the new crew in Aanaheim will learn to be a bit more considerate of Southern California's traditions. Disney and the Rose Parade ought to be great partners. As a Pasadenan and a theme park fan, I'd love to see an ongoing relationship between the two.

But not if Disney intends on making Rose Parade floats into rolling commercials. Sure, Disney's float awed many in the crowd. But if every Fortune 500 company in this parade turned its float into a commercial, this parade would lose its allure quickly. And I'd hate to see that. As much as I hated seeing teams from other conferences on the Rose Bowl field the past two years.

Tradition, you know.

From Joe Lane
Posted January 1, 2004 at 8:45 PM
Tradition. Too true--it's all an analogy for the mayhem in the mouse house. Everything continues in a neo-Disney fashion as tradition falls by the wayside to make way for money-making schemes.

Living out in Florida, I naturally couldn't make the parade, and work made it difficult to watch it televised, so the report is well appreciated. There's no doubt in the quality of Disney's engineering design when the outcome will affect financial gain, but when it comes to creating for the sake of creating, companies work different from visionaries.

From steve lee
Posted January 2, 2004 at 10:08 AM
Well put, Robert. But that's kinda what we expect from you.

I haven't seen anyone else mention it here, so I'm going to bring it up. What is everyone else's opinion on the story about Disney getting flack about that float NOT because it was a commerical (and what from Disney nowadays isn't a commercial (how about the Disney Christmas Day "Magical Gatherings" Drinking Game?)? The story making the rounds now is that they're getting grief because the NAME of the attraction is the Tower of Terror. As everyone knows, the word "tower" is synonymous with the September 11th terrorist attacks, and some folks (I hesitate to label it as "many") have complained that entitling the ride, which if memory serves is a pseudo-clone of a ride in another park that opened many years before 9/11, the TOWER of Terror is very insensitive on Disney's part (this story was linked on and also appeared on yesterdays IMDB news update, so it isn't a single crap story...).

Personally, I empathize entirely with the families of victims of the terrorist attacks...but this is bloody moronic, ranking slightly after the online petition to have Peter Jackson change the name of the second Lord of the Rings film because it was "taking advantage" of the terror attacks (I thought that petition was a joke, but I have seen people with my own two eyes who also believed the title was insensitive - and there were tons of people who walked up and asked for tickets to see the "Twin Towers" movie - unfortunately, many of these people bred).

I also think it's a little unfortunate that Roy and Stanley chose to link to that story as if to prove some sort of point about how Eisner is steering the company to hell in a handbasket. There's other stories out there that are much more effective and aren't built on such a silly, silly premise.

Anyone else?

From Robert Niles
Posted January 2, 2004 at 11:01 AM
If the theme of the ride were an airplane slamming into a hotel -- then critics would have a point. But an elevator dropping? Please.

Listen, if other people are so emotionally scarred by 9/11 that they feel that nothing must ever again be mentioned that could remind anyone of any element of that day, well, then let's just surrender our nation to Osama bin Laden and get it over with, shall we?

Just be sure to count me out from such hysteria.

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 2, 2004 at 11:59 AM
I don't want to be completely insensitive, but I would have to agree...The simple use to the word "Tower" beckonning back to 9/11? I don't think so, and I think people who are affected by the use of the word "tower" should seek some help and to find some closure. Do the Japanese not the use the word "bomb" anymore? Do Hawaiians and Navy personnel not use the word "zero" anymore? Lets not destroy the language and infer meanings to words that are obviously not referring to the disaster.

Why don't we just change our emergency number from 9-1-1 to 4-4-4-8-3-8-7 (I-G-I-V-E-U-P).

From Mr. D. T.
Posted January 3, 2004 at 9:10 AM
I think the names of 'Tower of Terror' and 'The Two Towers' came about before 9/11.

Watching the Rose Parade has joined a list of yearly traditions such as watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the ball drop on New Year's Eve, etc. How many rolling commercials do viewers see in front of Macy's on Thanksgiving Day?

Even my hometown's (Grayslake) summer days parade has its share of ads, such as a major chain grocery store and a preschool. I don't mind that.

I thought I kind of liked this year's Rose Bowl parade. Of course lots of non-commercial floats crept down the street, such as a wedding prop, the trolley from 'Meet Me In St. Louis', various high-school bands, and the Salvation Army, who participated since the parade started over a hundred years back -- wait, do you think that's an ad for the Salvation Army? I don't know.

I would've appreciated it if the California Adventure floats were displayed at the post-parade exhibit instead of in the park. Oh well.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 3, 2004 at 1:24 PM
I failed to mention in my original post that the Disney float failed to win any award from the Tournament of Roses. Quite telling. That clearly places the Disney entry within the bottom tier of the parade's floats, in the eyes of organizers.

Given the Disney company's rich history of musical entertainment, surely the company could have developed a float that celebrated that legacy, honored the parade's theme, and teased the crowd for Tower of Terror? Doesn't Walt Disney's Imagineering division employ the largest contingent of attraction and show designers in the world?

Oh... wait.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted January 3, 2004 at 2:43 PM
Well, the fact that disney didnt get an award isnt surprising as they didnt cow tow to the organizers of the parade and did what they felt was right. They were selling the tot attraction in dca for a audience much broader than the people who run the parade and from what i saw it was a excellant float!!! Not much differnt from the oscars where the artsy fartsy type films win the awards often but dont win where it counts and that is the box office.
As for a connectiuon to 9/11, there is none!!!! Except for those looking to be offended!!!

From Robert Niles
Posted January 6, 2004 at 10:49 AM
The L.A. Times' Patt Morrison rips Disney in her column today.

She opens with the 9/11 complaint, but despite her best effort, can't find anyone who demonstrates much outrage. But she continues slapping Disney over commercialism and spiriting the float away to Anaheim.

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