Friday, July 24, 2015

Making of: Disneyland's Light Magic Parade

By Keith Mahne

Light Magic was a parade that ran at Disneyland from May - September of 1997. Originally billed as a replacement for the distinguished and beloved Main Street Electrical Parade, Light Magic opened to poor reviews and closed only four short months later. Though Disney officially stated at the time that the show would return in the year 2000, it never again saw the "light" of day. Despite the show's short run, infrastructure improvements made specifically for Light Magic, mainly in Fantasyland, are still used today. Let's see how the parade was constructed and find out why it never lived up to expectations in today's brand new Making of article...

Light Magic was a "streetacular", with floats moving into two performance zones, one located at the Small World Mall, the other on Main Street. Upon reaching the performance zones, the floats would stop and the pixie characters, who were the focus of the show, would awaken to perform step-dancing routines for the audience, later being joined by Disney characters and audience members.

During the performance segment, a portion of each of the floats would open to reveal a screen upon which images were projected from equipment hidden in the surrounding buildings. As part of the grand finale, the fairies would use their 'magic' to throw pixie dust, confetti falls from the sky, and the buildings light up with a shower of twinkling lights provided by fiber optics embedded in the structures.


Light Magic's music was very Celtic-influenced, and the songs in the show included:
  • "Dream Our Dream", the Light Magic Theme
  • "Little April Shower" from Bambi
  • "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast
  • "Topsy Turvy" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • "Step in Time" from Mary Poppins
  • "When You Wish upon a Star" from Pinocchio
  • "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from Cinderella
  • "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid
  • "Beauty and the Beast" from Beauty and the Beast
  • "Baroque Hoedown" from the Main Street Electrical Parade

Light Magic had a difficult role to fill as The Main Street Electrical Parade had been a favorite at Disneyland for over 20 years. Expectations and apprehensions were both high as Light Magic made its debut at a private event for Disneyland Annual Passholders. The premiere night did not go well as technical problems came up with aligning the floats with the projectors, various cues were missed, and sound equipment failed, as well as the fiber-optic lighting not yet being functional. The initial show was prefaced by then Disneyland President Paul Pressler announcing to the passholder crowd that the show was to be a dress rehearsal and not the show in its finished form.

Annual Passholders are known for being both the most ardent supporters of Disneyland, while at the same time being its harshest critics. The response to the poor performance of Light Magic's debut was very negative, with long lines extending from City Hall on Main Street demanding refunds, as passholders had paid $25 each to attend the special event under the impression, based on all of the information that had been distributed, that they would be the first to see the finished product, not a test audience with which to work out the bugs. Word of mouth reports quickly spread that Light Magic was not worth seeing. Many felt that the pixies came off a bit scary with their fake noses, cheeks, and ears, and eventually earned the nickname of Light "Tragic".

Light Magic concept art

Light Magic played for the remainder of the summer season in 1997 with the majority of the response from the public ranging from lackluster to complete dislike. Many fans of the Main Street Electrical Parade regarded Light Magic as an unworthy replacement. Disney announced that Light Magic would be on hiatus until the year 2000, but 2000 came and went without any indication of Light Magic returning.

Small World area widened for Light Magic floats

Despite the show's disastrous reception and short-lived run, much of the infrastructure built for Light Magic, especially in the Small World Mall area, is still used for Disneyland's parades today. These infrastructure improvements included:
  • Painted asphalt along the parade route was replaced with concrete to accommodate the large, heavy show platforms
  • The plaza area in front of It's a Small World was widened and terraced to allow more guests a better view of the parade route, similar to the way some areas of New Orleans Square were terraced for Fantasmic!.
  • A walkway was added parallel to the parade route between Storybook Land Canal Boats and It's A Small World in order to allow guests to move in and out of the It's A Small World area during parades. This was added in response to crowded conditions for guests during the final months of the Main Street Electrical Parade's run.
  • Lighting towers constructed for Light Magic on Small World Mall and atop the Main Street, USA buildings allowed Disneyland to run the same parade in the afternoon and in the evening, rather than running separate afternoon and evening parades as was done for several years of the Main Street Electrical Parade's run (e.g., The Lion King Celebration).

Three towers constructed for the Light Magic parade seen here on the Small World Mall

Three towers constructed on the Small World Mall for sound and lighting technician used in Light Magic are still standing. Two currently serve no explicit purpose, but their exterior façades are still maintained. One has been returned to service as a projection tower for Disneyland Forever.

Another spiritual successor to the Main Street Electrical Parade, the Paint the Night Parade, which also makes use of "Baroque Hoedown", recently premiered at Disneyland on May 22, 2015, as part of the park's 60th anniversary celebration.

Next up, let's hear directly from the creative team that brought the Light Magic "streetacular" to life:

Now, why don't we travel back to Disneyland in 1997 and see for ourselves the complete Light Magic parade:

Light Magic facts:

  • Grand opening: May 23, 1997 (Memorial Day Weekend) Annual Passholder Premiere: May 13, 1997
  • Closing date: September 1, 1997 (Labor Day Weekend)
  • Show length: 20:00
  • Cost: Approximately $20,000,000
  • Fiber Optic Cable Length Used: 4500 Miles
  • Strobe Lights: 1520

Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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