One thing that can be said about Disney: they know how to recognize a hit. Whether it’s television cartoons like Bonkers, animated feature films like Treasure Planet, or the brilliant decision to let Johnny Depp put his own spin on Tonto in the modern Lone Ranger remake, they can…
…Okay, they fail too. But when it’s Disney, they tend to fail spectacularly.
This rule applies to their theme parks as well as their media productions. In 1997, Disneyland decided to scrap their old Main Street Electrical Parade – a nighttime parade with characters traveling down the center of the street in or on vehicles covered in LEDs. It was beloved, certainly, but it was also a remnant of the early 1970s. Technology had advanced, and an older demographic was being targeted for Disneyland visits.
What the park planners devised instead was Light Magic. It was to have similarities to the old parade: it would be held after sunset, would take place down the length of Main Street, and include park performers dressed in their character costumes. The new event would be more complex, though, with a storyline, fiber-optics, holograms and complex dance exhibitions by float performers.
You have to know this wasn’t a success. If it were, I wouldn’t be reminding people of its existence via the Owl.
The primary failure was one of positioning. The new show consisted of a series of floats which moved out along main street under cover of darkness, occasionally illuminated by one of dozens of colored spotlights which would pass over the street and disappear. Then, on cue, all of the floats would illuminate… which was great, if you were one of the people lined up where a float happened to be. If you were among the crowd which was pressed between two of the float locations, you were out of luck. Similarly, if you’d hoped to bring your child to get one last glimpse of a favorite character, even if you were right beside a float you’d have, at best, a one-in-four chance of the character being at your location.
These issues might have been overcome, were it not for the fairy design. Far from the Brian Froud interpretation seen in films like the Dark Crystal or the Tinkerbell style from Disney’s Peter Pan, these fairies were bedecked in something approximating clown makeup, with wings, sharp ears and sharp, upturned noses. When the costume designers decided to leave the 1970s behind, they attempted to do so by creating Bugaloos dosed with Joker venom.
The show was gone within a year, despite all of the money spent on the floats, costumes, choreography and sound system. But Disney did demonstrate they knew how to work the nostalgia angle… the Main Street Electrical Parade has since returned sporadically for “special engagements”, and parents and grandparents who recall the originals have brought children to see what they found so special about the nighttime spectacle.
Light Magic will probably return around the time they decide to make a live-action Treasure Planet.
Question of the night: Who is your favorite Disney villain?