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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 3

Jim Hill

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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 3

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Okay. I know. Today, we were supposed to get into all the behind-the-scenes stuff. All the technical problems that "Light Magic" had prior to its disastrous May 1997 debut. I was to explain why exactly the "streetacular" was in such rough shape when it was first performed for Disneyland's Annual Passholders.

And I will promise that I will eventually get to all of that stuff. Probably in the very next installment of this series. But - for now - I'd like to take a few moments to explain the Disneyland Entertainment Office's side of the story.

You see - now that "Light Magic" has (justly or unjustly. You decide) acquired such a horrible reputation - people just can't fathom how DL's Entertainment Office could have delivered such a dud. I mean, these were the same folks who were behind "Fantasmic!," "The Lion King Celebration" & "Aladdin's Royal Caravan." So they obviously know something about crafting quality theme park entertainment.

So what went wrong with "Light Magic"? To be honest, nothing really went wrong. These very talented, highly experienced people made what they all thought were the right moves. But - even so - their "streetacular" turned out to be anything but spectacular.

So - just for the sake of argument (and just to be fair to the staff at DL's Entertainment Office) - I'm now going to walk you through the way that "Light Magic" became the show that it became. On paper, all of the creative decisions that Disneyland's Entertainment staff made almost make sense. Almost.

Okay - picking up where we left off with Part Two ... Disney Entertainment's Office had found what they thought was a workable hook for their proposed "Main Street Electrical Parade" replacement, "Tinker Bell's Light Magic." Which was to give guests an up-close-and-personal encounter with the park's unofficial mascot.

This was when reality sank in. That magical moment - Tinker Bell zooming by, just a few feet over the guests' heads - would make a great opener and/or a great closer for the show. But it also wouldn't be enough to sustain an entire 20 minute long parade/pageant.

That's when DL's Entertainment staff realized that they'd have to come up with some sort of coherent storyline to hang "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" on. Something that could build to the moment where Peter Pan's pal would make her grand entrance.

But then came the big question: What exactly does Tinker Bell do after she's made this entrance? Sure, a flying fairy is fun to look at. For a minute or so. But what happens after that?

This is when DL's Entertainment staff began watching and rewatching Disney's 195? animated version of "Peter Pan." Looking for clues as to how they could expand this new Tinker Bell based show.

They eventually zeroed in on the scene where Tink doused Capt. Hook's ship with pixie dust. Disneyland's Entertainment staff began to wonder: Is there a way we could do something like that in the park? Have something that Tinker Bell sprinkles with pixie dust suddenly begin to glow. Pulse with magical power.

And this is where the idea of using fiber optics as the principal special effects medium for "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" kicked in. Particularly the notion of embedding fiber optics into all the window frames and building awnings along Main Street U.S.A.

This - according to Disneyland's Entertainment staff - would guarantee that their new show would have a killer climax. Tinker Bell would fly in, wave her magic wand and - Presto! - Main Street U.S.A. would become alive with pixie dust. Vibrant colors would spin and swirl up and down all of the building facades along the street. Surrounding the guests with what looked like real magic.

Of course, given the cost of installing all of these new fiber optic elements into pre-existing structures in the park, it immediately became apparent that "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" could not be a parade. At least in the traditional sense. The cost of adding fiber optics to every building along Disneyland's parade route would be astronomical.

This is where the idea of doing "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" as a "streetacular" came from. Forget about performing the show to thousands of people lined up along the parade route. But - rather - confining presentations of this street pageant to two small places inside the park. Areas that had already been retrofitted with all of the necessary fiber optic elements.

Yes, there was some risk involved with this idea. Breaking with the traditions of the "Main Street Electrical Parade," a show that easily entertained hundreds of guests each evening as it rolled on by. But Disneyland's Entertainment staff were so certain that "Tinker Bell's Light Magic"'s two "Big Wows" - the fairy fly-over and the buildings coming alive with pixie dust - would win people over that they didn't really concern themselves with the "streetacular"'s limited viewing areas. At least not at this phase of the project.

Anyway ... DL's Entertainment staff now had what they thought was a strong opening for "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" as well as a big finish ... But what happens in the middle? They struggled for months to come up with something magical & fun to help fill up the center of the show.

For a while, they toyed with the idea of bringing in all of Tinker Bell's Neverland friends to interact with the audience. Peter Pan, Wendy, Jane, Michael and the Lost Boys. Not to mention Capt. Hook, Mr. Smee and the rest of the pirates. Stage epic sword fights in the street. Have Hook get chased by the crocodile.

The only problem was ... "Fantasmic!" already had a scene like this. One that really "wowed" the crowds along the banks of the Rivers of America with all of those epic antics up in the rigging of the Columbia. So why cannibalize that audience-pleasing sequence in order to create a replacement for MSEP?

(By the way, just so you know ... DL's Entertainment staff did actually script a replacement for "Fantasmic!"'s "Peter Pan" sequence. This would have involved Captain Nemo & his crew - riding on top of a partially submerged Nautilus - floating in from stage left and a huge inflatable squid floating from stage right.

The two parties would have grappled for a bit in the middle of the Rivers of America, while Mickey appeared on Tom Sawyer's Island - seated in front of a massive pipe organ. The Mouse was supposed to hammer out a quick excerpt from Bach's "Toccata & Fugue in D Minor," which was meant to be the musical accompaniment for this epic sea battle. These proposed "Fantasmic!" addition would have reached its climax when Nemo plunged his harpoon into the snapping jaws of the squid. Whereupon the entire waterfront would have gone dark ...which supposedly would have allowed the show to make a smooth transition to its next sequence.

Sounds pretty wild, doesn't it? Well, for a time, this sequence was under serious consideration as something new that could be folded into Disneyland's "Fantasmic!" Of course, this was back in the day when DL's Entertainment Office thought that it would be freshening up this New Orleans Square waterfront show every couple of years or so. So - in addition to writing this Nemo scene - they also scripted new sequences for DL's version of "Fantasmic!" that would have been staged to the "Just Can't Wait to Be King" song from "The Lion King," the "Friend Like Me" number from "Aladdin" as well as "The Colors of Wind" from "Pocahontas."

But then the folks in the Team Disney building in Anaheim went on another one of their cost cutting binges. Which is why Disneyland's Entertainment staff eventually abandoned the idea of freshening up their version of "Fantasmic!" Of course, some of the ideas that they scripted eventually ended up in the Disney / MGM version of "Fantasmic!" ... But that's a story for another time ...)

Anyway ... Getting back to "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" ... Since Peter Pan wasn't available, DL's Entertainment staff decided to create some new friends for Tinker Bell. These eventually became the pixies. A somewhat earth-bound variation on Ms. Bell. These creatures (which would be portrayed by Disneyland cast members) would have wings but wouldn't be able to fly.

But what these pixies could do was interact with the audience. Maybe pull a few kids out into the street and teach them a dance step or two. Or maybe show them how to throw a handful of pixie dust (AKA confetti).

Of course, these pixies couldn't just appear out of nowhere. Which is why DL's Entertainment staff decided to create these enormous rolling stages - four identical 55,000-pound units, each 80 feet long & 25 feet high - which would serve as homes to these magical creatures. And - to help add to the impact of "Tinker Bell's Light Magic"'s killer climax - each of these units would be laden with fiber optics as well.

That way, when Tinker Bell waved her wand at the end of the show, the audience would see the rolling stages in front of them as well as the buildings behind them all come alive when touched by pixie dust.

Okay. That seems like a hell of a lot of show already. At least to me. But DL's Entertainment staff knew that one of the more successful elements of the original "Main Street Electrical Parade" is that it gave Disneyland guests one last chance to see the characters (Mickey, Donald, Goofy et al) before they left the park for the night. So - even though "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" already had dancing pixies as well as a fly-over by Ms. Bell - Disneyland's Entertainment staff knew that they had to come up with a creative way to (I'm quoting from a somewhat cynical staffer here) "shoehorn a bunch of rubberheads into the proceedings."

Given that "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" had to take place at night, one creative staffer suggested that all of the Disneyland characters could have already gone to bed by the time the pixies arrived. That way, the noise in the street could awaken Mickey & friends. Who would then - while still dressed in their robes and pajamas - stumble outside to see what all of the fuss was about.

To the Disneyland Entertainment staff's way of thinking, this was a great way to bring the characters into the show. Having Mickey & friends enter a third of the way into "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" would give the "streetacular"'s sagging mid-section a lot of oomph & excitement. Plus the whole "they've just gotten out of bed" idea would give Disneyland's design department a great hook to hang all of the characters' new costume designs on.

But even after DL's Entertainment staff found a somewhat logical way to bring the characters into the show ... there was still no denying that the latter portion of the program still lacked some spark. Sure, "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" still had its killer climax - Tink's fly-over and the floats & buildings coming alive when they were dosed with pixie dust - but what about the 10 minutes that proceeded this? What was going to entertain the audience then?

It was at this point that DL's Entertainment office turned to the staff of Animation Services at Disney Feature Animation - Florida. Since "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" took place at night and people normally dream at night, Disneyland's Entertainment staff asked the animators to create a short film that A) starred Tinker Bell, B) featured lots of pixie dust and C) used music & memorable scenes from classic Disney animated films to re-enforce the ideas that dreams really can come true.

With all of these elements in place (or at least in the pipeline), Disneyland's Entertainment staff felt that they had finally put together a worthy successor to the "Main Street Electrical Parade." On paper, "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" looked like a real winner.

On paper, that is.

Now all they would have to do - once the rolling stages were built and the fiber optics were in place - was get the show up on its feet and see where the flaws were. Find out where "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" needed tweaking & tightening before the public got to see Disneyland's new "streetacular."

Little did Disneyland's Entertainment staff know that that moment was never going to come. That - due to a series of unforeseen behind-the-scenes snafus - "Light Magic"'s first real dress rehearsal wouldn't be held backstage or after-hours. But - rather - out in front of some highly critical paying customers: Disneyland's annual passholders.

That was the event that "Light Magic" was never able to recover from. The show's reputation was ruined - even before it officially opened - thanks to this relatively new ( Well, new for 1997) communications device.

Maybe you've heard of it? The Internet?

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