Legacy Content

Kenversations: Light Magic
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by Ken Pellman (archives)
February 23, 2006
Ken remembers the Annual Passholder Light Magic preview and reviews a DVD that chronicles the evening.

"Light Magic: A Spectacular Journey"

Well, that's what the DVD says.

This edition of Kenversations actually started out as a "Ken Reviews" of this Light Magic DVD, which is NOT an official product from Disney.

Ah, but as I watched the DVD the memories came back – many of which had been deliberately repressed.

Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Along the way, I'll comment on the DVD, but more so on the whole Light Magic…incident. That's why this is being run as a "Kenversations".

Youngsters and anyone else "new to the magic" may be surprised to learn that the Disney Electrical Parade that performs inside Disney's California Adventure park was once, a long time ago, a staple of the Disneyland Park summertime night entertainment.

It's true… back then, it was called the Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP).

After starting in the 1970s, the parade was changed and expanded until it became mostly set in its look and its float roster, staying pretty much the same into the 1990s. The Walt Disney World Resort Magic Kingdom had received a new nighttime parade, called SpectroMagic, and so the obvious question was bandied about - would Disneyland Park get an overhaul to the MSEP or would it get a new experience? Surely, the same old MSEP couldn't just continue on.

A plan was finally put in place. The MSEP at Disneyland Park would be promoted as having a "farewell season" ten years ago in 1996, while promoting that a new experience, Light Magic, would be premiering in 1997. Disneyland cast members wore name tags touting 1996 as the farewell season for the MSEP. There were even fiber-optic signs placed at the park exits touting that Light Magic was coming in 1997, so that as people left after seeing the MSEP for what they thought would be the last time, they could be inspired to look forward to the new show. And yes, cast members would be given Light Magic name tags in 1997.

Surely, with the new golden age of Disney Feature Animation and the advancements of technology, a magical new experience could be created featuring the rich assortment of the new characters and settings, and using the latest in special effects. Instead of dwarves working away on a twinkle-light mine to the Baroque Hoedown, we could look forward to Ariel, Belle, Aladdin, Simba, and all of their friends frolicking in a potpourri of fog, projections, lasers, fiber optics, and so forth, all with a catchy, endearing new theme music incorporating familiar portions of the newer hit songs. It was sure to be a big hit, right?


Well, the guests got projections, fiber optics, lots of Mylar confetti, and new music. But whatever Light Magic was, it was not quite what they expected.

The MSEP, promoted as a classic that was "glowing away" forever, packed in record crowds to Disneyland Park, especially the rapidly growing number of annual passholders. In fact, just the increase in attendance over the yearly average was more than all but the select top theme parks in the world see as their total attendance in a year. The parade's public run was extended beyond the already longer-than-seasonal extension, into November. The final performances were during the Disney Family Holiday parties (for Cast Members, employees, and family) in December. The park's operating hours were extended for the duration of the parade's run. The third busiest day in park history was recorded during this time.

From a marketing and financial standpoint, things were going extremely well. Simply advertising that a parade that had existed for decades was going away was enough to piggy-back on other recent additions such as the Lion King Celebration and the Indiana Jones Adventure to pack the crowds into the park. Disney was even able to sell the little lights from the parade in gussied-up boxes.

Everything was going great for Disneyland management, led by former Disney Stores head, Paul Pressler.

Then, Light Magic "premiered" during an annual passholder party. At the time, as documented in this DVD, then-Disneyland Resort President Paul Pressler was referring to annual passholders as "our most important guests" who were "a part of our Disney family."

The MSEP was a tough act to follow. Throw in the mix that much of the vocal element of the online Disney fan community was growing ever more hostile towards Paul Pressler and the Entertainment department's status within the hierarchy of priorities and the resulting alterations to the park for their projects. Finally, the show (and yes, it was a show that traveled down the parade route with set stops, not a traditional parade) was not quite ready for prime time when it was premiered for the annual passholders at that special party. As Paul noted, what you see in the DVD is the "first of many rehearsals".

It would be a legendary night in park history.

Some of the most influential passholders in the crowd gave the show a thumbs-down. Some of the passholders went straight back to the shops to return the special show-related merchandise, and some went to City Hall to complain and ask for a refund. Word hit the Web and the Usenet, and the bad word-of-mouth spread like wildfire. Disney even aired radio commercials featuring clips of guests talking about how much they liked Light Magic in an effort to counter the negative talk.

Understandably, Disneyland management cooled to the idea of subsequent special parties just for annual passholders.

To this day, the show has its entrenched detractors and supporters, kind of like a precursor to DCA. Whether or not the show was a good one or not, that fact is that it appeared for just one season, then went on the same kind of "hiatus" as the Rocket Rods attraction.

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