Preview: Behind the Scenes of “Magic Happens,” Disneyland’s All-New Daytime Parade

Pictured during a backstage rehearsal of the “Magic Happens” parade set to debut at Disneyland Park in California Feb. 28, 2020, Mickey Mouse will wear an all-new sorcerer-inspired costume as he leads the way from atop a 15-foot tall iridescent magical hat.

Pictured during a backstage rehearsal of the “Magic Happens” parade set to debut at Disneyland Park in California Feb. 28, 2020, Mickey Mouse will wear an all-new sorcerer-inspired costume as he leads the way from atop a 15-foot tall iridescent magical hat.

Every once in a blue moon, Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom gets an all-new daytime parade, festooned with all the wonder and wizardry that has made Disneyland the Happiest Place on Earth since it opened in 1955. And at the end of this month, guests at the enduringly popular Southern California destination will be treated to the latest magical creation from the incredibly talented Disneyland Resort Live Entertainment team– “Magic Happens”.

This week I had the amazing opportunity to get a backstage preview of “Magic Happens” at Disneyland, where the parade’s Creative Director David Duffy and Show Director Jordan Peterson introduced us to some of its many wonderful floats, characters, dancers, music, and surprises.

First, Disneyland wanted to make sure we and our readers were aware of the limited-time ticket offers“Magic Happens” merchandise options, and “Magic Happens" dining package available at the resort just in time for guests to get the most out of their enjoyment of this sure-to-be-fantastic parade. Then Mr. Duffy reminded us that Disneyland itself launched with a parade for its grand opening event almost 65 years ago. For this reason “Magic Happens” was created by lovers and devotees of Disney Parks parades.

“Magic Happens” is described as contemporary, artistic, and whimsical, and its floats were intended as fashion-forward moving pieces of art. The intent of the twice-daily performance is to deliver joy to Disneyland guests, and Duffy and Peterson want viewers to “leave smiling.” Of course, music is considered the first building block of any Disney parade, and for this new vision the designers went to songwriter (and huge Disney fan) Todrick Hall, whose unique sound and musical expertise led to him submitting an initial track that was immediately approved.

Partnered with the opening choreography by Emmy winner Tassandra Chavez, makeup design by the Emmy-nominated David Petruschin, and costumes designed by Disney Parks’ Matthew Davidson, the beginning of “Magic Happens” is sure to set the perfect groundwork for the rest of the parade. Naturally, Mickey Mouse leads the way on a moving masterpiece that looks astoundingly like the above concept art. Those in attendance at the preview media event got a sneak peek at this striking float and the performance that accompanies it, and both brought the house down with their dazzling look and energetic feel.

The opening dancers join Mickey, then Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Chip ‘n’ Dale– all in sparkling new outfits fashioned specifically for “Magic Happens”– to lead the way for all that comes after down the Disneyland parade route. They’re followed by the Moana float, which was described to us as “artistry in motion,” with the magic of the ocean embedded into its design. Here, technology enhances the storytelling through the use of an LED screen with animation giving viewers a window into the deep through Moana’s eyes. Ocean dancers also represent waves and utilize new toys they play with along the route.

Moana is followed by Maui, and Pua, who are in turn being chased by Kakamora on a rickshaw modeled after their floating island. The life-size Hei Hei animatronic who pops his head out of a rolling basket too look around is sure to be a hit with fans of the film.

Up next is the Coco float, which features the movie’s protagonist Miguel playing his great-great grandfather’s famous guitar in the World of the Living. A marigold bridge behind him sees his playful dog companion Dante change into his Alebrije form as he crosses over into the City of the Dead, where jaw-dropping puppets of Hector and Imelda act as backup singers for their music-loving descendant.

Speaking of music, each parade loop runs for about one minute and 45 seconds, and consists of mashups of a variety of songs from each franchise. The Coco loop conveys all of the emotion of the story, respecting the film while still finding a new way to interpret its music. Escorting the float are marigold petal dancers whose kinetic movement flow along with the hit tunes from the movie and whose skirts become waving flags and then turn back into skirts. It’s a pretty neat move, and they’re followed up by Alebrije dancers with a fresh color palette not seen before in a Disney parade.

The Frozen 2 float incorporates the sequel’s fall tones and features the Water Horse and Enchanted Forest as seen in the smash movie. Anna and Olaf ride their ice canoe as Elsa looks down from the frosty spires of the Ahtohollan location from the story’s climax. This float was counterintuitively designed with its larger elements up front to allow for a sense of discovery, with Elsa shielded from view until the float begins to pass by. Kristoff follows with his cart and Sven, while Elsa makes it snow off the top of the float. Dancers intended to look like the canopy and aspen bark of the Enchanted Forest’s trees have bold makeup designs and move to the mashed-up melodies of “Into the Unknown” and “Let It Go.”

The Grand Finale of “Magic Happens” has a bit of an ironic name, as it takes up nearly half of the parade. It gets off to a magical start with Cinderella and its title character spinning and waving from a float that represents the moment her pumpkin is transformed into that iconic carriage. Cinderella’s new dress echoes the concept for the float, depicting her in mid-metamorphosis.

On the Sword in the Stone float, Merlin is joined by Arthur (which Disney says is this character’s first-ever realization at Disneyland) and Archimedes the owl.

For The Princess and the Frog, the “Magic Happens” designers chose to reiterate the idea behind the Cinderella float, depicting the moment Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen turn back into their human forms, once again capturing the magic of transformation.

The Grand Finale of the Grand Finale is the Sleeping Beauty float, decked with one hundred colorful tapestries and reflecting the beauty of the movie’s famous castle in a brand new way. The fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather rotate on their pedestals as they change the color of Princess Aurora’s dress. Meanwhile, Aurora waltzes with Prince Phillip on the clouds. The float features a genuine gold finish that alternated between smooth and textured.

“Magic Happens” also includes a number of hidden Easter Eggs and remarkably detailed design aspects, each of which is meant to speak to the individual tastes and souls of those in the crowd watching along the Disneyland parade route. It was chosen to launch between the grand openings of Disneyland Resort’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the upcoming Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure to reinforce the core Disney message using a number of beloved characters and stories.

“Magic Happens” debuts Friday, February 28 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. For more information, be sure to visit Disneyland Resort’s official website.

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Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.