(A version of this article was published for Pirates & Princesses on March 25, 2022.)
“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-synthe-magnetic musical sounds: the Main Street Electrical Parade.” – Intro
There’s a tried and true saying that no great idea ever dies at Disney. The same can be said about a great parade. The Main Street Electrical Parade has had a long and storied history spanning fifty years across the majority of Disney resorts (but mostly the American kind).
While Dearly Departed Disney remembers and celebrates the attractions of yesteryear, this particular installment feels a little more Haunted Mansion-inspired. The end of one life leads to the beginning of another, and in the process the party begins anew. The Main Street Electrical Parade has come and gone. And come back again, and gone away again. And come back yet again. You get the point. Let’s try to sort out this confusing piece 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 iconic first park – borrowed heavily from the concepts, theming, and attractions that were so successfully employed in California.
One advantage Magic Kingdom had, that Disneyland did not, was a significant amount of space. One major disadvantage? Lots and lots of water. In Disneyland, guests were able to park in a lot across the street from the front gate, However, guests at Magic Kingdom parked in a lot which resided across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the park. Transportation from the car to the park was provided either by ferry boat or by Monorail. While these two offerings were unique experiences, they also added another level of hassle for guests who were tired at the end of a long day in the park.
True to Walt Disney’s philosophy of always “plussing” the guest experience, Imagineers at Walt Disney World gave those bleary-eyed evening guests one final treat – the Electrical Water Pageant. This water-based parade consisted of fourteen 25-foot-tall screens decorated with electrical lights. The floats gently coasted along the lagoon in the evening, giving guests on the ferry boats, or at the entrance plaza, a goodnight kiss of sorts – eliciting one last smile before returning to the car.
Lighting the Lights in Anaheim
Not long after the Electrical Water Pageant debuted in Walt Disney World, Disney executive Card Walker wanted to bring a similar experience to Disneyland. Walker commissioned the development of what would be named the Main Street Electrical Parade.
Created by Robert Jani and directed by Ron Miziker, the parade combined live performers, parade floats, and some 500,000-plus hand-tinted light bulbs. The parade employed the first automated parade show-control program to give every parade viewer 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 early synthesizer pioneers Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley.
The original electrical parade floats included the Blue Fairy, a large drum pulled by the Casey Jr. Engine, Cinderella, a Chinese dragon, a circus calliope, and the American flag finale, among others. Later versions of the parade have filtered in floats and characters from Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Dumbo, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Pete’s Dragon.
The parade made its first official run down Disneyland’s Main Street in June 1972, but not before enduring a couple of pre-opening mishaps. During a rehearsal, one float crashed into a building on Main Street, and some performers’ costumes flashed sparks, igniting safety concerns. But after the rocky rehearsals, the parade debuted successfully, beginning the first of thousands of trips down Main Street, USA.
Making sense of the X’s and O’s of when, where, and how the parade ran in different Disney parks takes a PhD in Disney history. You can read those dizzying details here, but for purposes of hitting the high points and keeping the whimsy, let’s look at the parade highlights per park.
After debuting in June 1972, the parade operated fairly consistently through 1996, though not without going through some changes. The original parade layout lasted just two years, then was briefly replaced with a different theme “America on Parade” which ran for another two years. A redesigned Electrical Parade ran from June 1977 through November 1996 (with another break from 1983-1985).
The parade moved on to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1999, replacing the original Magic Kingdom version that had moved on to Disneyland Park in Paris in April 1992. After a short two-year run in Florida the Electrical Parade was packed up and moved back to California – but not to Disneyland. For this run, the parade marched in to help rescue the struggling Disney California Adventure Park, which had opened to underwhelming reviews and poor attendance. Without a Main Street to stroll down, the parade took on the moniker of “Disney’s Electrical Parade” and it ran from July 2001 through April 2010.
Since leaving Disney California Adventure in 2010, the Main Street Electrical Parade has made two return engagements back in Disneyland, in 2017 and 2019. And it’s coming back again very soon, in April 2022.
Walt Disney World
What goes around comes around. After the Electric Water Pageant inspired a successful Electrical Parade in Disneyland, an almost carbon copy of the California parade was built for Magic Kingdom, where it opened in June 1977. The only difference between the parades – barely noticeable to casual guests – was the fact that the floats were a little wider for the Florida parade, since Magic Kingdom’s Main Street was a little wider than Disneyland’s.
This original Magic Kingdom version ran 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 close to eleven more years.
The Main Street Electrical Parade has made two return engagements in Magic Kingdom. The Disneyland parade came back and ran from May 1999 to April 2001, and again from June 2010 to October 2016. So what about the two eight-year gaps in between the most recent runs? Those were filled with a little parade called…
“Welcome to the splendor, the spectacle, the sparkling sensation, where the romance, the comedy, and the thrill of Disney fantasies come to electric life. And now, the Magic Kingdom proudly presents, in a million points of musical light, the magic worlds of Disney…in SpectroMagic!” – Intro
Admirably filling in 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. After 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, 45+ Disney characters, 14 Spectromen, and eight Butterflies. Following two successful runs in Magic Kingdom, Disney permanently retired the parade in 2013.
Tokyo Disneyland installed its own version of the parade called the Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade, where it ran from March 1985 through June 1995. The parade ran successfully for ten years, after which it was refurbished into “Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights”, where it continues to run through present day.
Disneyland Park (Paris)
As we 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 spectacle. In total, the Paris parade ran almost eleven years, ending in March 2003. It was replaced by Disney’s Fantillusion, which had previously run for six years in Tokyo Disneyland.
The Long and Winding Road
As you can see, the many lives of the Main Street Electrical Parade form a long and storied chronicle of highlights. Fans of the parade regale each other with fond memories of where and when they watched those 500,000 lights, spinning snails, dragons, and flags.
The legendary parade marched through five Disney parks, and even made one-time appearances in New York City (as a variant called the “Hercules Electrical Parade” in June 1997) and the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida (during halftime of the Orange Bowl college football game).
Fans of the original Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade, fear not. The parade is returning in April 2022 to celebrate its 50-year anniversary. According to Disney Parks Blog, the parade will include “an all-new, enchanted grand finale that celebrates the theme of togetherness.” The American Flag finale has been redesigned to be more inclusive, and will now feature a version of the Mary Blair-inspired dolls from Disney’s classic “it’s a small world” attraction. The dolls will represent over a dozen popular Disney films, including Brave, Coco, Moana, Frozen, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, Encanto, and others, as well as the return of the Blue Fairy.
Bring your tissues. Tears are likely to be shed.
If you can’t make it out to Disneyland for this limited time engagement, you can get your Electrical Parade fix here, courtesy of ITM:
Thanks for riding, and please follow along here for additional articles in this series. We’ll continue to explore many other former attractions and experiences from Walt Disney World, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Sources referenced in writing this article include:
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