The retirement hasn’t fazed the Main Street Electrical Parade, which has now been resurrected several times since it supposedly “shone” forever in 1996. But when the electronic music-infused stalwart once again returns from over to Disneyland on April 22, this nostalgia celebration will have a new look.
Consider it a makeover that will be decidedly less patriotic.
Characters and scenes from Disney films such as the recently released “Encanto” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” will join modern and classic Disney franchises to anchor a closing float designed to honor the parade’s 50th anniversary. Overall, the Main Street Electrical Parade will now represent more than a dozen Disney and Pixar animated stories.
Concept art released by Disney showed “Encanto” characters Mirabel and Antonio atop a float filled with purple lights and a kaleidoscope-inspired version of the magic house at the heart of the film. Other properties represented in the parade will be ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Coco’, ‘Mulan’, ‘Brave’, ‘Aladdin’, ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and more. Although Disney hasn’t revealed how each film will appear, the floats will be double-sided with different images and characters on each. The closing of the cavalcade will be a new interpretation of the castle of Sleeping Beauty.
Other nighttime shows, including World of Color in Disney California Adventure and the unmissable Disneyland Forever fireworks display at the original park, will also begin on April 22. Nighttime entertainment returns nearly a year after Disneyland reopened due to an extended pandemic shutdown. Fantasmic, Disneyland’s fan-favorite show! is currently set for May 28.
But the most notable change appears to be with the Main Street Electrical Parade, which removes an early US finale that had survived decades and featured a star-studded closing float of the US flag, followed by a larger-than-life eagle. .
The new float will give the Main Street Electrical Parade an infusion of cool movie-and-park-inspired intellectual property — “IP” in corporate parlance — and strike Disneyland with one of its last symbols of arguably outdated patriotism. The blue fairy from “Pinocchio”, a character who had led it at the start of the parade, as well as the characters from “Frozen”, “Hercules” and “Pocahontas” also return to the top of the closing procession.
Die-hard Disney fans will be delighted to learn that the newly designed Electric Parade Float is inspired by the artwork of Mary Blair, whose animation career contributed to the look of “Peter Pan,” Alice in Wonderland” and Donald Dark. Greetings Amigos. But she’s best known as the artist who was the driving force behind Disneyland’s classic “It’s a Small World,” still today a cheerful diorama dedicated to children’s fantasies from around the world. Some of the characters on the tank are said to be in a Blair style influenced by Small World.
For the Electric Parade, this is a decision that is long overdue.
America is a collection of stories and myths from multiple cultures. The previous “To Honor America” float felt increasingly out of place at one of our nation’s most legendary and recognizable institutions. With dancers dressed in colonial garb, it felt like a relic of a time when America yearned for the “good old days” rather than forward momentum. Indeed, the stars and stripes finale took place in 1979, shortly after America’s bicentennial celebration in 1976 (a Disneyland representative noted that the parade was on hiatus in 1975 and 1976).
Granted, when it comes to outdated American exceptionalism, the park has been a little slow at times (see Jungle Cruise). Yet from day one, Disney has been a reflection of American culture more than a love letter to American nationalism, a holdover from the park’s early days in the Walt Disney era. Modern Disney, with a global fanbase, is less interested in trying to see the world through an American lens. And while it may be a cynical choice to pump more of its own tales into the parks, this is an area where corporate and public interests align for better, more timeless attractions.
Today, Disney-style American culture is “Coco”, “Encanto”, “Moana”, “The Princess and the Frog”, “Black Panther”, “Frozen”, “Raya and the Last Dragon” and others. Each of these tales, taken together but not above criticism, is more reflective of the diverse communities that make up the constituents of the theme park than something that seems best left to the 4th of July.
Disneyland, of course, is a place of tradition, and even today the park is home to an Abe Lincoln robot, holds flag retreats, and tells the story of the first Christmas of every December. But part of the park’s heritage is change. The electric parade has been a source of relatively constant upheaval. Originally, the parade ended with a series of small allegorical floats, mixing Disney characters and musical instruments. In 2009, Disney added Tinker Bell at the start of the parade and placed the Blue Fairy on a long break.
The closing float will now be anchored in the parade with a 19-foot-tall rendition of Sleeping Beauty’s castle – a rendition that incorporates motifs from the facade of It’s a Small World – instead of the giant American eagle which followed the flag float. Sleeping Beauty Castle, a centerpiece of Disneyland since it opened in July 1955, has been copied and reimagined at other Disney parks, but it remains America’s most eye-catching theme park symbol.
It’s a SoCal tradition that’s a lasting testament to the power of American culture and consumerism. In non-pandemic times, Disneyland was estimated to attract 19 million visitors a year, and the castle is a sign of all that we are not just an imagined place but also otherworldly.
Sleeping Beauty Castle is also a symbol of a place where America’s most popular art form – film – can take shape and become a place to reframe, recontextualize and reorient our relationship with the myths and possibilities of our country. And one of the most impactful ways to get to know each other is through the stories we’ve told at different times — stories that can represent the entire American population — rather than waving the American flag stained with pink.
Los Angeles Times