To wind down this year’s columns for 30 Years Ago at Disneyland, we will look at something that was briefly covered all the way back in January. You will recall that on January 11, in addition to a glittering ceremony to kick off all the anniversary promotions, Disneyland also debuted a brand new parade.
The Party Gras Parade was inspired by Mardi Gras in New Orleans, as translated by Disneyland entertainment and showmanship. Over 150 performers danced, marched and entertained on specially designed and built floats. The centerpieces for the parade were six massive inflatable characters, reaching 45 feet in the air. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Pluto and Roger Rabbit were the chosen six. Everyone knows the Fab Five… but why Roger Rabbit? At the time the character was Disney’s newest, and Michael Eisner wanted him to appear in as many promotions as possible.
Here are a few photos of the parade’s debut that memorable day in January, 1990.
The inflatable balloon characters (some sources referred to them as “falloons”) were easily the most memorable aspect of the Party Gras Parade. On Main Street they were particularly effective, although viewed from certain vantage points in the park, their startling dimensions created some surreal images.
As noted above, the favored location for viewing the parade was on Main Street (at least it was for me). Perhaps this part of the parade route was most evocative of the narrow streets of New Orleans older sections. Or it was the energy of the tightly packed crowds.
Another fun aspect about the parade were the stops it would make, and the street party that followed. Guests were encouraged to get up and dance, grab a musical instrument, and even take home a souvenir. Just as in Mardi Gras, Party Gras performers tossed colorful beads and purple “doubloons” to the crowd. For the first few weeks nearly anyone could catch them, but then they abruptly stopped tossing the coins. It seems that there were concerns that people might be injured by the lightweight aluminum projectiles. Instead of throwing them to the crowd, performers would place them into the eagerly outstretched hands of the kids seated along the curb. (And into the hand of certain savvy adults who were seated just behind!)
The arrival of the Party Gras was heralded by loud drumming, insistent whistles, and a colorful fanfare, followed by a theme that seemed to play continuously throughout 1990. According to the refrain, “No one could resist the magic and the mystic music of the Party Gras!” Popular songs woven into the parade included Hot! Hot! Hot!, Tico Tico and Brazil. There was also a performance of the traditional Conga, as guests formed up conga lines during the street dancing.
As the Party Gras Parade reached its frenzied finale, the music would crescendo and a massive flurry of confetti filled the air. Before heading down the street, however, the soundtrack acknowledged the cast of Party Gras in a rare “curtain call” announcement. The “play out” then resumed, with the percussion and whistles that preceded the fanfare signaling their departure for the next section of the parade route.
The Party Gras Parade ended on November 18, 1990 to make way for Disneyland’s holiday celebration. Back in 1990, parades for a specific promotion ran for that promotion only, and were then replaced by something new. In the years to follow parades and other shows would settle in for longer and longer runs, with minor changes to remove specific references to their original purpose.
The Disneyland Party Gras Parade did not entirely, disappear, however. In 1991 many elements turned up in Walt Disney World’s 20th Anniversary Surprise Celebration parade. And in Tokyo Disneyland, 1991 saw a very similar Party Gras for their 8th anniversary. This parade and its show elements were duplicates of the ones that had appeared in Disneyland. At Disneyland, 1991 would see an entirely new promotion, one that celebrated Disney synergy at its finest.