From Disaster to Icon: Main Street Electrical Parade Turns 50

As a child in the early 90s I basked in the colorful glow of the Main Street Electrical Parade as it whirled through Disneyland during the handful of visits we made before it “glowed away forever.” I was so enchanted and even bought the VHS of the parade and discarded lightbulb so a piece of it could live with me forever. Needless to say I have been thrilled each and every time the parade has been pulled out of mothballs and returned to Disneyland, and it has once again returned to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Myself, standing in front of the Disneyland Fire Station, wearing special Main Street Electrical Parade Mickey ears, which feature Elliot the green dragon, and Mickey, a butter yellow shirt featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in an old jalopy, with text reading "Disneyland The Happiest Place on Earth"

Myself, standing in front of a Main Street shop, wearing special Main Street Electrical Parade Mickey ears, which feature Elliot the green dragon, and Mickey, a butter yellow shirt featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in an old jalopy, with text reading "Disneyland The Happiest Place on Earth" and holding cotton candy wrapped in plastic featuring Elliot the green dragon.

Myself, standing in front of a Main Street mural, wearing special Main Street Electrical Parade Mickey ears, which feature Elliot the green dragon, and Mickey, a butter yellow shirt featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in an old jalopy, with text reading "Disneyland The Happiest Place on Earth"

Myself, standing in front of the Disneyland Fire Station, wearing special Main Street Electrical Parade Mickey ears, which feature Elliot the green dragon, and Mickey, a butter yellow shirt featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in an old jalopy, with text reading "Disneyland The Happiest Place on Earth" and holding a bag of colorful kettle corn that has a sticker on it celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

Close-up of my ears, which are black, the left ear features Elliot, the green and pink dragon, the right features Mickey in a tux and red pants, the middle is a yellow bow with music notes, and an enamel Mickey head with music notes.

Myself, standing in front of a Main Street mural, wearing special Main Street Electrical Parade Mickey ears, which feature Elliot the green dragon, and Mickey, a butter yellow shirt featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in an old jalopy, with text reading "Disneyland The Happiest Place on Earth"

Close-up of a Mickey shaped rice crispy treat pop, covered in colorful sprinkles and a chocolate disk featuring Elliot the green dragon, and text reading "Bring on the Lights! 50 years Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade"

Myself, standing in front of the Disneyland Fire Station, wearing special Main Street Electrical Parade Mickey ears, which feature Elliot the green dragon, and Mickey, a butter yellow shirt featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in an old jalopy, with text reading "Disneyland The Happiest Place on Earth" and holding a bag of colorful kettle corn that has a sticker on it celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

Myself, standing in front of a Main Street shop, wearing special Main Street Electrical Parade Mickey ears, which feature Elliot the green dragon, and Mickey, a butter yellow shirt featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in an old jalopy, with text reading "Disneyland The Happiest Place on Earth" and holding cotton candy wrapped in plastic featuring Elliot the green dragon.

Back of the special Main Street Electrical Parade ears, the left ear features text reading "Main Street Electrical Parade 50th Anniversary" and the other ear features the train float.

Disney has really pulled out all of the stops for the parade, with special food and merchandise, and even a dining package that includes lunch at Plaza Inn, and reserved seating for the parade. We opted for the dining package and enjoyed our fried chicken lunch, followed by an afternoon riding attractions and, as you can see, lots of tasty themed treats before sitting down in front of the Main Street Train Station to enjoy the thousands of twinkling lights that make up the Main Street Electrical Parade.

A train made of tiny lights is driven by Goofy.

Mickey stands atop a large band drum that has lights reading "Main Street Electrical Parade"

The large drum made up of lights reads "50 Years"

A funny little firefly made up of lights makes his way down Main Street.

Alice of Alice in Wonderland sits atop a giant mushroom made of lights, and the Cheshire Cat, also made of lights, sits below the mushroom.

The Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland sits atop a giant mushroom with his hooka.

A dapper little turtle made of lights wears a boater hat.

Fairy Godmother from Cinderella waves to the crowd from the back of the pumpkin coach.

A large pirate ship made up of lights features Captain Hood and Peter Pan fighting.

Tinker Bell from Peter Pan stands atop a giant flower made of lights.

Pete sits on the neck of the massive green and pink dragon, Elliot, from the film Pete's Dragon.

The Blue Fairy glides down Main Street at the front of a brand new float.

A long float featuring lands from various Disney films and little doll characters inspired from it's a small world

It’s incredible that one parade has lasted this long, but just how did this wild, psychedelic parade with its iconic, though manic, tune come to be? It really stems from one thing…jealousy. Let’s rewind to the 1971. Walt Disney World had just opened, and everyone was focused on it, leaving Anaheim’s Disneyland feeling a little lackluster and in need of something new and one that would keep Guests in the park after dark. Inspired by Disney World’s Electrical Water Pageant, the team at Disneyland decided to take electrified entertainment to Main Street.

The first of many hurdles was the power needed for the lights. Gas generators, extension cords, and car batteries weren’t going to work. “We even considered electrifying the tracks along Main Street,” Ronald Miziker, director of show development at the time, later admitted in an interview. Nickel-cadmium batteries were the solution, even though they needed to be recharged before the parade could run again.

While tiny Christmas lights are widely available today, they were not in the early 70s. At that time, larger, C9 style bulbs were the norm for light decoration, but the Disney team learned about small, Italian made lightbulbs being used in Chicago on city trees along Michigan Avenue. The Chicago-based company agreed to supply the lights and build the floats, but two months before the parade was set to debut, the Disney team arrived for a check-in to find that only half of the floats were built. Fourteen moving vans transported the half-built parade to Anaheim and under a massive tent, Cast Members got to work welding and hand tinting the 500,000 lightbulbs.

In the meantime, music needed to be selected. Jack Wagner, Disneyland’s former official park announcer, is credited with uncovering and sharing with team working on the parade. The now iconic tune, properly known as “Baroque Hoedown” by Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley, off of their 1967 album Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out. The pair were pioneers in the world of electronic music, and among the first to work with the Moog synthesizer. But Perrey had no idea their song was licensed to Disney. In fact it wasn’t until he visited the park in 1980 and heard it during the parade did he know of its beloved status.

With less than a week before opening, Disney was two-thirds of the way done with the floats, and even secretaries were in the mix helping at the 11th hour to install lightbulbs. Once the floats were completed, the trials were far from over. Rehearsal didn’t go smoothly either, sparks emitted from the electrified costumes and a float even ran into one of the Main Street buildings. But once the hiccups were over, the Main Street Electrical Parade glided and glowed into the hearts of millions beginning June 17, 1972.

After a brief hiatus in 1975 and 1976, when it was replaced by the Bicentennial themed America On Parade, it returned. A few years later in 1979 it was added to, with the 108 foot long “To Honor America” float, continuing the celebration of America’s Bicentennial.

The Main Street Electrical Parade went away “forever” in 1996 (replaced by the infamously disastrous Light Magic parade), but when Disney California Adventure opened to less than favorable reviews, the Company pulled the Main Street Electrical Parade out of retirement to lure Guests to California Adventure in 2001. It also spent time over in Walt Disney World, before returning again to Disneyland in 2017 for a limited run. But as 2022 marks the parade’s 50th anniversary, it has been brought out once again, and even received a revamp. The 1979 “To Honor America” segment has been reconfigured to feature a Mary Blair inspired collection of characters from various Disney animated films, including Aladdin and Jasmine, Anna and Elsa, Raya, Princess Tiana, and even Mirabel from Encanto, among others.

I think what I love so much about the Main Street Electrical Parade is that it is such a product of its time. With the giant Elliot from Pete’s Dragon, the psychedelic vibes from the turtles and snails, not to mention the larger than life Alice in Wonderland segment. Some portions have come and gone, such as the once iconic Blue Fairy (rumors are she was damaged during the parade’s stint in Florida) also gone is the Dumbo Circus portion and Bedknobs and Broomsticks elements. But overall it still maintains its colorful electric heart.

The Disneyland Resort has not announced when the Main Street Electrical Parade will be leaving, but I’m going to bet that it lasts through summer, and I intend to see it a few more times!

Outfit
Ears & Shirt: Disneyland
Jeans: Lee
Shoes: Re-Mix
Mickey Ring: Dapper Day Expo

Sources
Eades, Mark. “Co-composter of Disney’s Electrical Parade music Dies.” The Orange County Register, 4 November 2016. Accessed 5 May 2022.
MacDonald, Brady. “The colorful history of the Disneyland Electrical Parade, which returns in January.” The Seattle Times, 21 December 2016. Accessed 5 May 2022.
Main Street Electrical Parade. D23. Accessed 5 May 2022.
Pimentel, Joseph. “Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade returns Thursday with iconic tune.” The Orange County Register, 19 January 2017. Accessed 5 May 2022.

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