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The Main Street Electrical Parade

“Exit out this way please folks, exit out this way please!” Even though I heard these words seven years ago, they are still fresh in my mind. Allow me to set the scene. My family stood across from Wine Country Trattoria, an hour before the Electrical Parade would pass by us for the last time in California Adventure. We sacrificed our opportunity to ride California Screamin’ at night so we could have a good view of the parade. The park was packed with annual pass holders, eager to get one last look at the famous parade before it traveled across the country to Walt Disney World. A cast member directing traffic (bless his heart), violently waved a neon light back and forth while direction the crowd with repetitive hand motions. The whole hour we waited for the parade, we listened to the cast member direct guests out of the park, “Exit out this way please folks, exit out this way please.” The cast members at Disneyland that control crowds are usually not the most well-liked, but when I see them in the parks now, they always put a smile on my face because I’m reminded of the Electrical Parade, a parade that I grew up with and saw every time I visited Disneyland.

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, it is with great pleasure that I announce the Main Street Electrical Parade has returned to Disneyland! I watched a video of the return of the parade a few nights ago and couldn’t help the tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Hopefully, you’ll be just as intrigued reading the history of the parade as I was researching it (most of the information in this blog came from The Disneyland Encyclopedia by Chris Strider).

A shiver never failed to run up my spine as the lights turned out in California Adventure and the parade music blasts through the speakers. Then the narrator spoke these familiar words, “Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, Disney proudly presents our spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination in thousands of sparkling lights and electro-syntho-magnetic musical sounds. The Main Street Electrical Parade”. Those were the words of my childhood.

The parade debuted in Disneyland in 1972 all thanks to Disney’s former director of entertainment, Robert Jani. Robert is known for creating America on Parade as well as the set design and construction of the 4th of July celebration in Washington D.C., but he’s most famously known for the Electrical Parade. Robert’s parade idea was unique and fresh compared to the typical parades during this time period. People didn’t wait along the streets during the day to view the parade, they waited during night, when all the sunlight from the day had been erased. A marching band didn’t drive the life of the Electrical Parade, but there were mechanical huge friendly looking creatures that would interact with the guests. The parade would light up the night with more than 500,000 bulbs that the floats were outlined with. Not only were the floats illuminated by light, so were the costumes of the various characters.

Robert worked with Hub Braden to design the concept art for the floats and layout of the parade. The floats were built off-property in Chicago and were shipped to Anaheim where the final touches were added. The first rehearsal didn’t exactly run smoothly (apparently it went so horribly that one of the character’s costumes caught on fire and a float ran into a building on Main Street). Luckily, the cast members worked out the kinks before it debuted on Disneyland’s 27th birthday, July 17, 1972. Thanks to Robert Jani, this was the first parade that incorporated new music sequences to correspond with each float.

The parade ran strong in Disneyland for 24 more years. Disneyland guests weren’t happy when it was announced the parade would move across the country to Walt Disney World. And so, the fans united to push back the final run of the parade from mid-October to November 25, 1996. Lightbulbs from the parade were even auctioned off for charity.

After California Adventure opened in 2001, Disney needed something to entice guests to visit the newly added park. Alas, the Electrical Parade was brought back to the Disneyland Resort, this time to Disney’s California Adventure. There were some alternations made to the original parade, but the main concept remained the same.

As the parade ran strong in California Adventure, Robert Jani was inducted into the Disney Legends Program by the Walt Disney Company. Just as other Disney legends such as the Sherman Brothers, Mary Blair, and Marc Davis, Robert Jani now has a window on Main Street in Disneyland that is a constant reminder of the impact he made in Disney history.

Five years after Robert’s induction into the Disney legends program, the Electrical Parade was moved back again to Disney World. During the time the parade had been running in Disney World, the Paint the Night Parade debuted in 2014 in Tokyo Disneyland as an homage to the Main Street Electrical Parade. Paint the Night was added in Disneyland Anaheim in 2015 as a part of Disneyland’s 60th Diamond Celebration. In my opinion, Paint the Night was a magical parade and a wonderful homage to the Electrical Parade, but nothing will ever compare to the original nighttime parade (maybe my opinion is a little bias because I grew up with the Electrical Parade).

Now that Disney World had the opportunity to enjoy the parade for six years, the parade is back in Disneyland, running down Main Street, it’s original stomping grounds, for a limited time between January 20 until June. If you get the opportunity, swing by Disneyland to experience this festival of nighttime magic and imagination, and now, maybe you’ll smile when you see Disneyland cast members directing traffic.

If you just can't get enough of this nighttime parade, check out this video by mrcheezypop to watch the return of the parade to Disneyland on January 19 (this night was for VIPs only, but it opened to the public the following day), and watch this video to learn more about the behind the scenes of the Electrical Parade.

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