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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 1

Jim Hill

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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 1

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Perhaps longtime Disneyland attractions supervisor Bruce Kimbrell was the one who said it best.

While serving as the master of ceremonies at last year's "Flashback" (A cast-member-only talent show that Disneyland staffers hold annually to raise moneys for Orange County's "Make-a-Wish" Foundation), Bruce did his version of "Carnac the Magnificent." You know - that bit that Johnny Carson used to do on the "Tonight Show"? The one where Johnny wore a turban and supposedly used his amazing psychic abilities to comically answer a question while it was still sealed inside an envelope?

Anyway ... While "borrowing" Johnny's old routine last year, Kimbrell reportedly held an envelope up to his head. He then supposedly said:

"And the answer is ... Elizabeth Taylor, cars crossing the English Channel and Light Magic."

Kimbrell then ripped open the envelope and read the following question:

"Name something married, something ferried and something buried."

When they heard that, the audience inside the Hyperion Theater just roared with delight. Why? Because Kimbrell had found a witty way to mention the unmentionable.

You see, NOBODY at Disneyland ever talks about "Light Magic" anymore. That $40 million dollar fiasco is something that Mouse House management has worked extremely hard at sweeping under the rug.

Don't believe me? The next time you're in the park, pick up a copy of the official Disneyland Resort souvenir book (You know, that beautiful hardcover that Tim O'Day and his staff put together back in 2000). This book shouldn't be too hard to find, given that the Mouse has it on sale in almost every gift shop on property.

When you find this book, thumb through the thing and try to find a single mention of this infamous streetacular. You'll find several nice big pictures of the "Main Street Electrical Parade" and "Fantasmic." Not to mention a few cute shots of "Aladdin's Royal Caravan," "The Lion King Celebration," Disneyland's 35th anniversary "Party Gras Parade" as well as the Mulan parade. But - were you search this book from cover to cover - you wouldn't find a single image or mention of "Light Magic."

More telling is the book's "Strolling Down Memory Lane in 'The Happiest Place on Earth'." This section feature a timeline of Disneyland's history and marches the reader through many of the theme park's more memorable moments. Check out 1997, the year "Light Magic" actually made its ill-fated debut. There's not a single acknowledgement here that this parade ever existed.

A streetacular that the Walt Disney Company spent tens of millions of dollars to create, then tens of millions more to promote ... deliberately unmentioned.

Why for? To put it bluntly, the wounds that this streetacular caused at Disney's corporate level were still too fresh. People's careers ended & lawsuits got filed all because of how poorly "Light Magic" was received 'way back during the summer of 1997. Which is why O'Day (who's actually a pretty nice guy) deliberately decided to delete this awkward moment in Disneyland history. To spare the feelings of the people who sign his paycheck. Some very powerful folks who work in the Team Disney Anaheim building, who are still smarting from the whole "Light Magic" fiasco.

Lucky for you folks, I am NOT a "pretty nice guy." More importantly, the Mouse doesn't sign my paycheck. So I'm free to talk about "Light Magic" all I want. I can even ask those really awkward questions ... like ... whatever possessed Disney to create this streetacular in the first place?

To be honest, Disneyland Entertainment office created "Light Magic" because they felt it was finally time to pull the plug on Anaheim's dilapidated, outmoded "Main Street Electrical Parade."

Back in the spring of 1992 (When work first officially got underway on the Disneyland MSEP replacement project), Walt Disney World's new "Spectromagic" night-time parade had already been up and running for almost six months. And serious design work for Tokyo Disneyland's new after-dark extravaganza, Fantillusion (which wouldn't make its official debut at TDL 'til July 21, 1995) was already well underway. So Disneyland's entertainment staff also wanted in on this action. They too felt that it was high time that Walt's original Magic Kingdom got an all-new night-time parade.

The big question was ... What sort of parade should they do? Truth be told, there were actually several DE staffers who argued quite strenuously for keeping Disneyland's old "Main Street Electrical Parade." Their argument was "why fix what ain't broke?" What these folks proposed was - instead of blowing all that money to design and build an all-new parade for the "Happiest Place on Earth" - to just use state-of-the-art technology (I.E.fiber optics, electro-luminescence, holograms, etc.) to put a bold new face on this old Disneyland favorite.

Curiously, there actually was precedent for doing this sort of thing at Disneyland. Longtime Disneyana fans may recall how the Imagineers shut down Anaheim's Fantasyland back in late 1981 / early 1982. WDI gutted most of the pre-existing rides and shows in this part of the park, then used their artistry to create bright shiny new versions of these venerable old attractions. The end result was Disneyland's new Fantasyland, which let down its drawbridge in the spring of 1983 ... and has been a fan favorite ever since.

This is what some of the Disneyland Entertainment staffers had hoped to do with the park's "Main Street Electrical Parade." Get rid of all of those old tacky Christmas lights, but save the stuff that people really loved. Goofy driving the Casey Jr. Train. Pete high atop his pal, Elliot the dragon. The seven dwarfs and their mine cars. Alice sitting on the gaint mushroom. Those big set pieces that Disneyland visitors have come to love over the years.

(Curiously, many of the ideas that DL's Entertainment staff cooked up for this proposed revamped version of Disneyland's "Main Street Electrical Parade" - re-imagining/ re-inventing some of the parade's more beloved units - eventually found their way into Tokyo Disneyland's new version of that theme park's "Main Street Electrical Parade: Dreamlights." "Dreamlights" debuted at TDL's Magic Kingdom back in June 1, 2001 and has supposedly already become a huge hit with visitors to the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. )

Unfortunately, in spite of all the great ideas that staffers came up with for a new version of Disneyland's old "Main Street Electrical Parade," the higher ups at Disneyland's Entertainment office still felt that it was time that the park made a deliberate break from its past. Bring in something bold and new to really shake things up. Which is why - for a while there, anyway - Disneyland was supposed to get a all-new night-time parade that really was going to be out-of-this-world.

Okay, how many of you out there know anything about "Tomorrowland 2055"? The extravagant, elaborate, outrageous new Tomorrowland that the Imagineers hoped to have up and running at Disneyland by the mid-1990s? This all-new take on Tomorrowland was actually supposed to embrace the idea that Disneyland was "The Happiest Place on Earth" ... Which is why aliens would start coming to Anaheim to go on vacation.

According to the elaborate backstory that the Imagineers had cooked up for "Tomorrowland 2055": A Disneyland construction crew - while using a backhoe to dig a trench for bury some new electrical cables in Tomorrowland - would accidentally unearth this weird collection of other-worldly looking stones. Think Stonehenge by way of "2001" A Space Odyssey."

Anyway ... These stones - as it would turn out - were supposedly an extra-terrestrial beacon that had been buried for centuries. And - now that they had finally unearthed and exposed to the sunlight - these stones would automatically begin beaming a message out into deep space that Earth was finally an advanced enough civilization that it could begin accepting official visits from out-of-this-world tourists.

Which is why aliens would now supposedly begin flocking to Anaheim to meet and trade with the locals. Which is why that extraterrestrial impresario, P.T. Quantum, supposedly flew his enormous flying circus-saucer (AKA the radically retooled "Carousel of Progress" theater-go-round building) and parked it right inside the park, so that Disneyland guests could feast their eyes on "Plectu's Fantastic Intergalactic Revue." And - right across the way - the X-Tech corporation had set up shop. Here, Chairman Klench and his minions would give DL visitors an exciting peek at teleportation technology with their "Alien Encounter" show.

It all sounds very impressive so far, doesn't it? Well, wait 'til you hear how Disneyland's Entertainment Office had wanted to get in on the action. These guys actually proposed tying the park's new night-time parade - the show that was to have replaced MSEP - right into "Tomorrowland 2055"'s out-of-this-world storyline. How would this have worked? Well, every night after dark (through some elaborate visual effects that only the wizards of WDI could have figured out how to make seem real), a full-sized UFO would be seen (and heard) landing in that cast-members-only area out behind Main Street U.S.A. and Tomorrowland.

After a few tense moments, the gates on Main Street U.S.A. would fly open and these tall, thin, beautiful alien beings (think super models from space) - sometimes called Lumins, other times just called the Light-Keepers - would begin parading through the park. The costumes that Disneyland Entertainment had dreamed up for this elaborate night-time pageant were absolutely dazzling. These creatures were actually supposedly made out of starlight, so the costumes themselves were supposed to have glowed from within.

Each night after dark, these other-worldly creatures were supposed to make their stately way through Disneyland - occasionally interacting with guests along the parade route. Contact with Disneyland visitors was supposed to make the alien's entire body change color and/or make their costume pulse weirdly with light. Eventually, they'd exit backstage through the gate next to "it's a small world." Then another elaborate light and sound show would ensue, which would Disneyland visitors the impression that the Lumins/ Light-Keepers/ whatever-their-name-was had reboarded their vessel and were now headed back out into deep space.

Sounds like a pretty far-out idea for a new Disneyland night-time parade, doesn't it? Well, the "Light-Keepers" show would have actually probably gone forward if Michael Eisner - following Euro Disneyland's disappointing opening in April 1992 - hadn't lost his enthusiasm for big budget projects like "Tomorrowland 2055." Once Eisner asked the Imagineers to significantly downscale their plans for Disneyland's new Tomorrowland, the whole "Anaheim is the new alien vacation hot spot" idea went out the window. Which meant that the proposed storyline for "The Light-Keepers" parade now made no sense. Which is why this idea eventually got tossed out too.

Which was just fine for some Disneyland Entertainment staffers. These folks had never been fans of the whole "Light-Keepers" concept. The very idea that these regal-looking aliens were staging this elaborate procession after dark through the streets of Disneyland just seemed too cold, too sterile to them. After all, people didn't come to the "Happiest Place on Earth" to passively experience some elaborate pageant. They came to Disneyland to have fun. To experience some magic. To interact with the legendary Disney characters.

It was building on these ideas - giving Disneyland guests the opportunity to experience some magic, to interact with some characters after dark - that caused the parade project to take an interesting turn in late 1993.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?

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