The Celebration USA! Parade – 30 Years Ago at Disneyland

Have I mentioned that back in the old days, say, thirty years ago, Disneyland used to put on a new daytime parade every single year, without giving a thought to the idea of keeping it around for three, five, or ten years more? Of course, everyone knew what to expect when night fell and catchy music heralded the Main Street Electrical Parade. But during the day, you never knew what you might get from one year to the next.

Celebration USA! ran from June 21 until November 24 of 1991. (Yes, this was yet another show with an exclamation mark as an official part of its name.) It was a tongue-in-cheek look at the American way of life, with Disney characters, dancers, and a few rolling units. The parade was divided into five somewhat modest sections: a “title” sequence, “Suburbia USA,” “Heartland Ranch,” “Metropolis,” and the finale.

The title float and dancers introduced an original song, “Livin’ it Up in America,” a hip-hop flavored tune performed by a bevy of energetic street dancers. The float itself was little more than a set of red, white, and blue steps, surmounted by a huge banner carrying the official logo.

Riding aboard the float were Goofy, Chip ’n Dale, Minnie Mouse, and… not Mickey. Like many events and parades around this time, Roger Rabbit was aboard, leading many loyal fans to grumble, “What’s that rabbit doing in Mickey’s spot?” I mean, it isn’t a Disneyland parade without Mickey, is it?

Suburbia U.S.A. was next down the parade route. This unit consisted of a lot of marching and dancing characters (but the only Disney character here was Mickey’s dog Pluto), as well as two floats. In one “Dad” could be found in his easy chair, wrestling with all those new-fangled devices like the VCR and the CD player. In the other, “Mom” and a friend did the laundry while aerobicizing. Meanwhile, out on the street, such suburban denizens as the mailman, the pizza delivery boy, and the kid who mows your lawn were in-line skating and riding bikes and scooters. There was even an Avon Lady with a sample case. Bringing up to the rear was a group of teenaged boys washing down their hot rod. (Because this was Disneyland, where even in the 1990s teenaged boys could be found hanging around their tricked-up jalopies…)

From the suburbs, we were whisked to a more bucolic part of America, the Heartland Ranch. Here, farmhands danced with farmer’s daughters, who were gussied up in square-dance style dresses in a vivid cowhide pattern. Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Clara Cluck could be found on this farm, but not before witnessing a rather surreal troupe of marching vegetables. (I am not making this up.) The characters were featured on a highly kinetic float with “eggs” whirling and spinning through an elaborate series of wired tubes. Overseeing all the production was a somewhat lascivious rooster, perched in the top of a tower that brought up the end of the unit. All this, to the strains of a rather hokey version of the “Cow Cow Boogie.”

The Metropolis unit was introduced with its own theme, “Working in America” (to the tune of “Living in America”). Lest we forget that Disneyland was heavily promoting the Disney Afternoon that year, many, many Disney Afternoon stars appeared in this section of the parade. (See my March column for a full rundown on Disneyland’s Disney Afternoon Live! With the exclamation point.) Zooming around the parade route in little cars and scooters could be seen such luminaries as Scrooge McDuck, Cubbi Gummi, Bigtime Beagle, and Rebecca Cunningham. Towering over all of them at the top of the skyscraper-themed float was the Big Bad Wolf, here identified as “The Big Bad Boss.” (Just think, a few years later and he could have been the Big Bad Wolf of Wall Street…)

But the real stars of this unit were an unassuming-looking group in neat business attire, carrying cell phones and briefcases. Their tightly choreographed routine never failed to bring down the house. And why not? Southern California audiences had delighted in the antics of the original Briefcase Synchronized Drill Team ever since they had made their first appearance in Pasadena’s third Doo Dah Parade in 1979. The Doo Dah Parade was an irreverent parody of the staid Tournament of Roses Parade. The Briefcase Drill Team continued making appearances until the year 2000 and were even featured in the half-time show for a Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving Day football game. Disneyland’s Briefcase Drill Team, however, was seen only for a single summer at Disneyland.

The Coffee Break was given a rather prominent spot in this section of the parade as well. A giant coffee pot and two cups served as an urban counterpoint to the Heartland’s surreal marching vegetables. One of the cups, incidentally, was labeled “Jack” and bore a striking resemblance to Disneyland President Jack Lindquist.

The Metropolis section ended with, what else, a crowd of “city types” and construction workers, overseen by Baloo, Monterey Jack, and Gadget Hachwrench, there to greet the crowd and keep that Disney Afternoon synergy flowing.

At Walt Disney World’s original Pleasure Island, there was a very funny comedy review called “Forbidden Disney.” For their finale, they noted that you could always count on one sure thing from any Disney show: an over-the-top patriotic finale. And that is exactly what Celebration USA! offered its guests. After all the jokes, the sly digs, and hokey song lyrics, the finale took an abrupt shift in tone as the original theme song reappeared with a new set of lyrics:

“From the Heartland, to the City,

Red, white and blue!

From sea to sea,

The life we lead,

No one does it like we do.”

Livin’ it up in America…”

Performers now appeared in red, white, and blue costumes, waving streamers and heralding a pair of floats. The first featured a proud, golden eagle.

But wait, there’s more! The second float featured the torch of Lady Liberty herself and carried Disney’s biggest star, Mickey Mouse himself, dressed as Uncle Sam.

When he was not energetically dancing to the lilting strains of the patriotic finale, Mickey waved and posed for his adoring crowd. After all, what would an American celebration at Disneyland be without that final boost of all-American fervor? 

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