The Greatest Nighttime Parade That Ever Rolled Down Main Street USA
Over the last few months of covering Disneyland’s 35th birthday, you’ve heard a lot about the Party Gras Parade, and its haunting theme song that lingered on long after all the confetti had been swept away. But there was, of course, another parade running that year, with a theme song that lingered on for years. The Main Street Electrical Parade made its annual return for that memorable summer, and I for one couldn’t wait to see it.
My intense interest in the Electrical Parade went back several years, to the summer of 1972 to be precise. That year my parents and I took our one and only family vacation trip to southern California. We went to Sea World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and spent a highly anticipated day at Disneyland. I was 13 that summer and had worshipped Disneyland from far off Portland, Oregon as long as I could remember.
We made a very full day of it, but as evening approached my father fell ill, and it was decided that we should go back to the relatives we were staying within Buena Park. We would possibly return in a few hours to see the “new parade” that was being advertised in our park brochures.
Alas, we were not destined to return to Disneyland that night, so it would be over 15 years before I was able to finally see that “spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination in thousands of sparkling lights and electro-syntho-magnetic musical sounds.” I do not recall if I saw it on opening night in 1990, but I do know I saw it many times before it went away over Labor Day weekend.
(A final note on that missed opportunity in 1972. In later years as I was researching an article detailing the history of MSEP, I discovered that the evening we were in the park was the second week of the run of the original Electrical Parade. I missed seeing the “flat” version of the parade, without many of the iconic floats and musical embellishments. But I digress…)
By 1990, the parade had become a firmly entrenched tradition at the Happiest Place on Earth. Only a madman would ever consider trying to replace it.
Let us then go back, 30 years. The lights are dimming on Main Street. The announcement that introduced the nightly event was recorded by Disneyland’s official “voice,” Jack Wagner, with a digital assist from the vocoder. As the the strains of Baroque Hoedown filled the air, the Blue Fairy and her attendants swept into view.
Next in line was the Casey jr. train, carrying Mickey and Minnie, along with Engineer Goofy.
For 1990 there was a special float added to the parade, to commemorate the 35 Years of Magic promotion (just in case you had forgotten it during your visit). I am fairly certain they did not attempt to incorporate the Party Gras theme into the electro-syntho-magnetic musical sounds of Baroque Hoedown.
After the special float, the rest of the parade was pretty much the “classic” lineup. Alice in Wonderland rode atop her mushroom, surrounded by the whimsical spinning denizens of Wonderland.
Next up was the regal Cinderella unit, with dancing mice, dancing dancers, and a couple of extremely rude young ladies who were very popular with the crowd.
Peter Pan was up next. As many times as I watched this parade I marveled at just how much of a sword fight Peter and Capt. Hook could perform on such a tiny boat.
One of the most extensive sections of the parade was Dumbo’s Circus. By 1990 King Leonidas and the calliope lead off not one, but two sets of circus rings, the balancing bear, the bathing elephant, and Dumbo brandishing his magic feather.
After the sheer spectacle of Dumbo’s Circus (and as a respite from all the scary clowns), the Seven Dwarf’s mine train next came into view, followed by their mine.
Pinocchio was next, with another unit that was quite impressive. In 1990 they included the “donkey boys,” who offered trick cigars to kids along the parade route, only to pull them away before creating another lost boy.
When you saw Elliot heading down the street, you knew the parade was coming to an end. And if you did not know that Elliot was Pete’s Dragon, what are you doing here?
There was a time when every Disney theme park show featured a patriotic finale. The Main Street Electrical Parade was no exception. I didn’t get to see the Winnie the Pooh for President Stars and Stripes Forever finale in 1972 (I am not making that up), but I saw To Honor America more times than I could possibly count.
No summer night at Disneyland would be complete without viewing the fireworks. In 1990, the venerable Fantasy in the Sky was still running after 32 years. This was also strictly seasonal, commencing on Memorial Day weekend and ending on Labor Day. You knew summer was over when the fireworks ended at Disneyland.