With the upcoming return on the Electrical Parade, I wanted to share some history with you about it.
If someone asks you about the parades in Disneyland, what is your “go-to” parade? It’s the Main Street Electrical Parade, isn’t it? That is most people’s “go-to” parade. Did you know that the parade just celebrated its 45-year anniversary, making it the longest-running parade in Disney history? Personally, I can’t even listen to a clip of the music without getting all excited. Want to know how our favorite parade came into being?
In October 1971, Disney World premiered their water show, Electrical Water Pageant. It was staged on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake for Magic Kingdom’s “Dedication Day,” which was a few weeks after the park opened. It consisted of 14 floats covered with lightbulbs that also shot off fireworks and pyrotechnics. Bob Jani (Yawn-y) came up with the idea to put a flat 2D whale out in the water. Then, he took some Disney executives out on the dark water and revealed the single light-up flat whale. Being amazed at the beauty of the lights of the whale and how they reflected off the water, they approved an expansion to the water show, making it the 14 floats it ended up becoming. This was what inspired the soon-to-be Main Street Electrical Parade.
Apparently, Disneyland had a drop in attendance at nighttime back in the early 70’s. I don’t think that is much of an issue now, but it was back then. Disney was looking for a nighttime experience for its Guests. Bob Jani was in charge of finding something to entertain after dark. He had just come up with the Electrical Water Pageant for the Magic Kingdom and he wanted to create something similar to that.
The Director of Show Development, Ron Miziker, worked with Bob and found a Chicago-based company to create the floats for the Main Street Electrical Parade. At Christmas time, this company would cover Michigan Avenue in Chicago with lights and deemed it the Magnificent Mile. The Chicago-based company was spending a lot of time creating the parade floats. Ron would call them up and ask how things were coming along and wasn’t too thrilled with their answers on the ETA for the project.
One of the problems they encountered was being able to power each unit. One thought was to use generators, but they were too noisy and smelly. For a microsecond, they mentioned running extension cords down the parade route. They even thought about electrifying the track to charge the large number of lights. Regular car batteries weren’t strong enough to make the floats last long. With The Country Bear Jamboree just a few months away from opening to the public, Disneyland’s Vice President, Dick Nunis, told them to make it work or they would scrap the project. Bob visited the production company in Chicago and found out that some of the floats hadn’t even been started yet. The ones that were together had bunches of wires hanging out everywhere and weren’t even attached to anything. Ron spoke to Bob and had him set up a crew with electricians and engineers back in California led by Troy Barrett. Ron shipped all the floats to them in pieces to complete there. This all happened TWO MONTHS before its June unveiling. Electricians and carpenters had to work shifts 24-hours a day to get them all completed in time.
There were several stages the floats had to go through before completion. They had to come up with designs for them by having sketches made. Animator Bill Justice drew concepts that would later be turned into the parade floats. Bill is known for animating Thumper, Chip & Dale, and characters in movies like Fantasia (1940), Saludos Amigos (1942), Der Fuehrer’s Face (1942), Peter Pan (1953), and Alice in Wonderland (1951), to name a few. He also started the Golden Gate Disneyana Club, the Northern California chapter of the Disneyana Club. He also worked on Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and worked with John Hench to set the standard for the Mickey Mouse meet and greet character in the park. The drawings were used by the Production Company in order to make the floats. Steelworkers would create the framework and weld together all the pieces that would make the shell of what the character would be. The miniature bulbs were only made by one company at that time and they only came in white. Each bulb had to be hand-dipped into a medium to give it a color coating. The electricians would attach all the Italian-made miniature bulbs, which were like little Christmas lights, and then the carpenters would attach all that to a wood base. Most of the floats were simple and actually 2D. They were flat. Those floats were physically pulled or pushed down the street by a Cast Member, kind of like on a giant wagon. Even Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage was flat. The only floats that were 3D were the Blue Fairy, the float with King Leonidas playing the Calliope, the train pulling the Main Street Electrical Parade logo, and a Chinese dragon.
As you may have guessed, they figured out the electricity source issue just 3 days before the unveiling. Jerry Hefferly, an electrical engineer, found a new type of battery that was nickel-cadmium. The nickel-cadmium batteries had enough power to make the lights shine bright, blare the music, and run the cars inside the floats, for the ones that had the cars.
On June 16, 1972, just one day before the opening date, they had a rehearsal. There were problems left and right. Only one-third of the floats were ready to go, costumes were short-circuiting and sparking, floats fell apart, the canopy that is carried over the ballroom dancers fell apart, one float even crashed into a building on Main Street. All the problems were fixed throughout the night because the press was going to be there on June 17th for the big reveal.
The following day, all the floats were lined up and in position to enter Main Street down at Times Square, where the press was located. The batteries weren’t even fully charged and they were expected to die part way down the parade route, but at least they would have been passed the press by that point.
The music is one of the elements that makes the parade so memorable. The music is a song called Baroque Hoedown that was created by Jean-Jacques Perry for his album Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out and was released in 1967. Disney got permission from PolyGram, the publisher of the album, to use the music in the parade. Mr. Perry had no idea that permission was given to use his music in a Disneyland parade until he went to the park with his family in 1980, saw it for himself, and recognized the music as his own. He has said in interviews that he is happy that Disney was able to use his music and make so many people happy. Jean actually met Walt in 1962 on the Johnny Carson Show. Walt told him that he liked his Ondioline, which is an electronic keyboard instrument. Walt invited Jean back to the Disney studios to record music for Disney cartoons. Jean ended up going into the studio and adding musical clips and sounds to some cartoons. He said he doesn’t recall which cartoons and that he was only given snippets of the cartoons to add sound to.
Supposedly, another song called “Little Man from Mars” from Jean’s album was played in the Tomorrowland Star Trader. But, I am assuming that was before it was overhauled and made over with the Star Wars theme in 1987, after the opening of Star Tours. The Baroque Hoedown was originally played for the Electrical Water Pageant as well. When the Main Street Electrical Parade was running, the music had to be altered to fit better. This new version was composed by Jim Christensen and Paul Beaver. Jim Christensen is a composer who has performed and worked all over the U.S. and Canada and has over 400 published works to his credit. Paul Beaver is an accomplished musician who can use a Moog synthesizer, the instrument used to make the electric sounds of the parade. He also is known for the THX sound effect.
After 3 years, the parade temporarily ended in 1975. Disney created new floats and incorporated many Disney characters into it. Concept sketches were taken to the Disney animation studio to have a cartoonist draw each character to give it more of a “Disney feel.” The cartoon drawing was then turned into a 3D model. Steelworkers made the framework, which was then taken to the spray room to get spray coated in order to prevent rust. After it returned, the seamstresses fit fabric around the outside of the framework shells to take measurements. The fabric was then attached on the inside of the frame so that the skeletal framework was on the outside. The colored fabric prevented the lights from being seen on the opposite side of the float. The electricians attached the lights and the carpenters mounted the floats. This time, some of the floats were mounted on what is called a whirly bug. It is a little, motorized car that has 4 wheels that operate independently from each other, making it so it can just spin in circles. It is controlled very similar to an airplane. The steering wheel is pushed forward to go forward, pulled back to go backward, and turns left and right. These contraptions are inside what they call the critters, the floats that are the fireflies, turtles, and the snails from the Alice in Wonderland segment.
The music had to be redone as well. They still used the Baroque Hoedown, but added in Disney movie elements and sound effects. This was done by Don Dorsey and Jack Wagner. Jack is known as “The Voice of Disneyland.” He made all the announcements in the park, like “Remain seated please; Permanecer sentados por favor,” on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Jack recorded an intro for the parade and it went like this, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Disneyland proudly presents our spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination, in thousands of sparkling lights, and electro-syntho-magnetic musical sounds. The Main Street Electrical Parade!” Doesn’t that bring back memories of the parade? I bet you read it in your mind with his voice.
The Main Street Electrical Parade wasn’t only in Disneyland. When the parade returned to Main Street in 1977, after a two-year downtime due to its temporary replacement with the America on Parade spectacle, the Magic Kingdom in Florida debuted a 2nd version of the parade. I’m going to list everything here, so I hope you can keep up.
- FIRST INCARNATION
- In 1972, Disneyland premiered the Main Street Electrical Parade.
- In 1975, the parade shut down and was replaced by America on Parade.
- In 1977, America on Parade left and Main Street Electrical Parade returned.
- In 1996, the Main Street Electrical Parade in Disneyland was replaced with Light Magic, which first appeared in 1997.
- In 1999, Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade was sent to the Magic Kingdom to replace the SpectroMagic parade that began in 1991 after Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Electrical Parade was sent to Disneyland Paris.
- In 2001, the Main Street Electrical Parade came back to Disneyland. The SpectroMagic parade began running again in the Magic Kingdom.
- Due to poor attendance in California Adventure, Disney decided to re-introduce the parade in California Adventure instead and it was re-named Disney’s Electrical Parade. It began again on July 2, 2001, only 5 months after California Adventure opened. However, it didn’t really fix the attendance issue. People would just park hop over to California Adventure just to see the parade and then go back to Disneyland.
- In 2010, Disney’s Electrical Parade was sent back to the Magic Kingdom.
- In 2017, Disney’s Electrical Parade was brought back to Disneyland and was name changed back to Main Street Electrical Parade. It had its final public appearance from January 20, 2017 – August 20, 2017.
- SECOND INCARNATION
- In 1977, Magic Kingdom revealed the second version of the Main Street Electrical Parade.
- In 1991, Magic Kingdom’s version was sent to Disneyland Paris for its opening in 1992.
- In 1992, Main Street Electrical Parade began its run in Disneyland Paris.
- In 2003, it left Disneyland Paris and was shipped to Disneyland Hong Kong for its opening. The problem was it never debuted. They say the project was scrapped and Disney decided not to show it. Others say the parade was dumped in the ocean off the coast of Hong Kong. Nobody has seen it since.
- In 2003, the Disney’s Fantillusion from Tokyo Disneyland was shipped to Disneyland Paris to replace The Main Street Electrical Parade that was being shipped to Disneyland Hong Kong. Disney’s Fantillusion stayed there until 2012.
- THIRD INCARNATION
- In 1985, Tokyo Disneyland debuted their own third version of the parade.
- In 1995, it was taken out of Tokyo Disneyland and replaced with Disney’s Fantillusion.
- In 2001, the Main Street Electrical Parade returned to Tokyo Disneyland but was renamed Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights. It is the only version of the parade still running today.
If you had an issue following that, here it is in timeline form with its 3 incarnations.
With it celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2017, Disney’s Electrical Parade was the most popular parade in Disneyland’s history. Here are some fun facts or bits of trivia about our favorite parade.
- The parade was really only meant to run for the 1972 season, but because it was so popular, they decided to keep it around a little longer. Well, only another 3 years to be exact.
- There were over 600,000 lightbulbs between all the floats and all of the Cast Members in the parade.
- When auditioning dancers, they could take up to two days to go through the 700 applicants.
- The opening night parade consisted of Blue Fairy, Casey Junior Circus Train, Chinese Dragon, Cinderella’s Ball, Dumbo’s Circus, “it’s a small world,” Alice in Wonderland, and the American Finale float with the American flag.
- By 1986, it was estimated that over 100 million people had seen the parade throughout all the parks.
- The 7 Dwarves section takes 8 people to operate with 6 performers and 2 drivers.
- There were 16 people working in the maintenance building every day to check every float and its lights. Before she was a huge movie star, Michelle Pfeifer was Alice on top of the mushroom.
- Actress Joanna Kerns, Maggie Seaver in Growing Pains (1985-1992), portrayed the Blue Fairy that led the parade.
- Only in 1985 was there a float for Return to Oz (1985). It ended up catching fire and burning up.
- 2008 saw the premiere of Tinker Bell as the lead float.
- The entire parade was made 3D with the 1977 version.
- From 1977-1978, both the versions of the parade had a finale float that consisted of spinning mirrors with neon-lit characters on them.
- The entire parade was made 3D with the 1977 version.
- From 1977-1978, both the versions of the parade had a finale float that consisted of spinning mirrors with neon-lit characters on them.
- Elliot the dragon and Pete from Pete’s Dragon (1977) were added to the parade in 1977. They were only supposed to be there for one season to promote the new movie, but it was such a huge success that they left it in. This float was special in the fact that Elliot could blow “smoke” out of his nose and disappear like he did in the movie.
- In 1979, the “To Honor America” was added to the parade.
- The clock tower in the Cinderella segment was the tallest float, towering at 23 feet tall.
- Also in the Cinderella segment, the costumes cost anywhere from $5,000-$6,000, with Cinderella’s dress being the most expensive costume in the whole show.
- There was a total of 40 floats in the entire show.
- The American flag at the end of the show is the longest float, measuring a whopping 112 feet in length.
- There are 135 performers and 25 staff members that work the parade every night.
- If there is ever a breakdown, there are little tractors that come out to tow the float away.
- After it returned to Disneyland in 2017, it was supposed to only run until June. But there was such a high demand for it, Disney decided to extend it until August.
- About 1.5 hours before the parade is supposed to start, Cast Members set up the ropes and stanchions to separate out the crowd.
- The staff and performers start getting ready 2 hours before the parade’s start time.
- Disney had been paying for the rights to use the song Baroque Hoedown, but it is said that they have since bought the song outright.
- The technology and experience that Disney acquired from making all those Main Street Electrical Parades over the course of 1 ½ decades led to the creation of SpectroMagic. As a child of the Electrical Parade, this was a light-up parade that used fiber optics, neon lights, batteries, and over 600,000 lights.
- The grandchild of the Main Street Electrical Parade would be the Light Magic parade, which surfaced in 1997 and only lasted a little over 3 months. It was a poor excuse for a parade and was not a Guest favorite. It was a nighttime parade that didn’t have enough lights on it to see everything very well. This fact earned it the nickname “Light Tragic.”
- The great-grandchild of the Main Street Electrical Parade would be the Paint the Night Parade. This awesome nighttime spectacular first appeared in Hong Kong Disneyland on October 1, 2014. The entire parade was made up of over 740,000 LED lights. A version opened in Disneyland on May 22, 2015. This version had over 1.5 million LED lights. It left Disneyland January 8, 2017, because the Main Street Electrical Parade returned. Paint the Night Parade resurfaced in California Adventure on April 12, 2018.
- When the Main Street Electrical Parade had its “final” performance in Disneyland, several Cast Members who had a hand in the creation of the parade showed up to stand in a VIP section to see the parade off. The press showed up and there was a 3-hour television special.
- With the parade leaving in 1996, never to return, Disneyland sold off lightbulbs from the parade floats and the money was given to charity. They raised $720,000.
- The Pinocchio and Snow White floats were sent to Disneyland Paris after it left Disneyland and didn’t go to the Magic Kingdom with the rest of the parade.
- This is the only parade to be shown outside of Disney property. In 1977, Disney ran the parade down 6th Ave in New York City for the premiere of Pete’s Dragon (1977). They just wanted to show off their new Elliot float. The city even turned off 8 blocks of street lights.
- On January 2, 1978, the Main Street Electrical Parade made an appearance for the half-time show at the 1978 Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.
- A similar thing happened on June 14, 1997, when the parade again showed up in New York City for the premiere of Hercules (1997). This time it was to show off the new Hercules float. The parade was temporarily named The Hercules Electrical Parade. This was after the parade left Disneyland and was on its way to the Magic Kingdom.
- There were 22 zones down the parade route that were 75-80 feet in length. There was a lead float in each section that would trigger the sensor in the street in their zone to start the correlating music and sounds to go along with everything.
I hope my article was informative for you. Did you get a chance to see the Main Street Electrical Parade before it left? Well, there is always Tokyo.