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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 4

Jim Hill

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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 4

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There's this myth about the Walt Disney Company (one that the Mouse itself likes to promote) that no other corporation can ever beat the Mouse when it comes to cross promotion. Disney likes to call this practice "synergy." I.E. Mickey's ability to use every single division of the company to cross promote whatever film or product the Mouse currently has in the pipeline.

Take - for example - "Lilo & Stitch." Disney's right in the middle of launching this carefully co-ordinated campaign to make the public aware of the company's latest animated feature. Just walk into your local Disney Store this week and you'll see what I mean. Though this film doesn't officially open for over two weeks yet, you'll still find tons of "Lilo & Stitch" stuff already up on the shelves. Items that the Mouse hopes will remind us consumers that this new Walt Disney Picture opens at "a theater near you" on June 21st.

Of course, Disney's cross-promotional efforts don't just stop at the stores. Turn on the Disney Channel and - sooner or later - some sort of "Lilo & Stitch" promo piece will appear. Or - better yet - watch ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney" and catch a real live Michael Eisner chatting with an obnoxious animated alien. "No, we're not showing your movie tonight, Stitch," said Uncle Michael on one recent Sunday evening, "Now please go away."

Or pick up a copy of the Disney Catalog ... where you'll find pages and pages of "Lilo & Stitch" merchandise all ready to order. Or read "Disney" magazine, which features several great "Lilo" related articles in its Summer 2002 issue. The same goes for the most recent edition of "Disney Adventures."

You see what I'm getting at here, folks? The Mouse thinks that it's the best when it comes to cross promotion. And it usually is. Except in those rare instances where the other divisions of the Disney Company drop the ball or somehow muddle the message.

Case in point: "Light Magic." Disney's cross promotional engines really kicked into gear in the months prior to the official premiere of Anaheim's new "streetacular" in May 1997. Every single division of the corporation did what it could to get the word about this multi-million dollar follow-up for Disneyland's much loved "Main Street Electrical Parade." Which is all that well and good. Except that - somewhere along the way - the message that Disney's marketing staff was trying to get out to the public about "Light Magic" started to get garbled.

Take - for instance - this early reference to the show which appeared in the 1996 edition of the Walt Disney Company's Annual Report. In his letter to stockholders, Eisner described "Light Magic" as being "...a new nighttime show (that) will greet guests in 1997. ('Light Magic') replaces the 'Main Street Electrical Parade,' which officially ended its 25-year run in mid-October, then was held over through November 25 by public demand."

Eisner then goes on to say that - thanks to the skillful marketing of MSEP's farewell season - Disneyland had "its best year ever." He then anticipated that the all-new "Light Magic - A Spectacular Journey" show would also be a huge success when this night-time pageant that dealt with the "magic of light and the magic of night" opened in Anaheim during the Summer of 1997.

Did you pick up on that not-so-subtle name change? Up until now, we've been calling "Light Magic" "Tinker Bell's Light Magic" whenever we refer to the "streetacular" in this series. Why? Because that's what the people who had actually developed it always called Disneyland's new night-time show. Why for? Because the key concept that these folks had cooked up for "Light Magic" called for the show to climax as a miniature free-flying Tinker Bell figure flew low over the performance area.

The only problem was that the Mouse's liability lawyers were absolutely refusing to let Disneyland Entertainment fly a remote control figure a few feet about the guests' heads along the parade route. DL's Entertainment staff begged & pleaded, but Disney's attorneys wouldn't budge. They kept trotting out the same tired arguments: "What if you lost control of the figure? What if it flew into the crowd and injured a child?"

The only counter-proposal that Disney's lawyers would even consider allowing Disneyland's Entertainment staff to try involved tying a piece of pyro to a guide wire (provided - of course - that this guide wire was at the proper height above the street to insure guest safety). The idea behind this proposed effect is that the guide wire would then be stretched out over the entire "Light Magic" performance area. And - when the pyro was lit - the rocket would follow the path of its guide wire, zooming over the guests' heads.

It was hoped that - provided that DL's Entertainment staff could find the right sort of rocket to send down that guide wire - this pyro effect might actually resemble Tinker Bell. You know, during those moments in "Peter Pan" when she looks more like a little flying ball of golden light rather than a miniature Marilyn Monroe.

But Disneyland Entertainment staffers also realized that - as this tiny rocket zoomed overhead - a large number of guests that were in the park that night would have no idea that this effect supposedly signified Tinker Bell. They'd probably just look up & think "Hey! A little fireworks rocket, zooming down a wire that's just above over my head! How very cool!" Which why the folks at DL Entertainment ultimately decided to strip Tinker Bell's name off of their "Light Magic" show. Their reasoning: Better to confuse a few people then to disappoint thousands of other with a half-assed Tinker Bell effect.

Of course, with the show's signature Tinker Bell fly-over moment now cut, "Light Magic" didn't have a climax anymore. But that problem would pale in comparison to all the other technical snafus and PR disasters that suddenly began dogging Disneyland's "streetcular."

What technical problems? Well, let's start with the height and width of "Light Magic"'s four rolling stages. These things were actually so big that they wouldn't fit through the front door of Disneyland's parade barn. The tallest pieces on each unit had to be lowered and/or folded in on themselves before the stages could then be rolled into the backstage facility for servicing or repairs.

Now - when placed out on the great open plains of Disneyland's "Small World" mall - the enormous size of "Light Magic"'s rolling stages didn't really seem to matter that much. But take these very same vehicles & drive them down the center of Main Street U.S.A. and the scale of the things (80 feet long. 25 feet high. 11 feet wide) dwarfed & overwhelmed this 7/8th scale version of turn-of-the-century America.

Speaking of Disneyland's "Small World" mall area: Because Disneyland's Entertainment staff had spent so much money re-landscaping this part of the park (creating a two tiered area - similar to the one the Imagineers had created along New Orleans Square's waterfront back in 1993 to improve "Fantasmic!"'s sight lines - just so that guests could have a better view of "Light Magic"), there was no money left in the budget to add any additional fiber-optic elements to the buildings surrounding the performance area. As a result, there'd be no "surrounded by magic & pixie dust" effect to close out "Light Magic." At least for people who watched this show when it was presented back in the "Small World" mall area during its first year of operation.

And - speaking of fiber-optics - let's talk about Lazarus Lighting Design, Inc. The Los Angeles based fiber-optic company that Disneyland Entertainment hired to design & build the four large floats that played such a huge part in "Light Magic." Lazarus had also been expected to install all of the fiber optics on these rolling stages. But - according to the lawsuit that Lazarus eventually filed against the Mouse - this night-time "streetacular" was so poorly planned that LLD couldn't possibly deliver custom quality work given the limited time and/or the awful conditions that they had to work under.

What awful conditions? Well let's talk about all the time that Disneyland Entertainment supposedly wasted before delivering finished versions of its "Light Magic" storyboards to Lazarus (Documentation that the company needed to complete construction of the "streetacular"'s floats). Though LLD had signed its initial contract with Disney back on June 17, 1996, it would take DL's Entertainment staff 'til late February 1997 before it finally delivered the required storyboards - less than three months before "Light Magic" was supposed to begin public performances in the park.

At this point, relations between the two companies got so bad that Lazarus employees eventually walked off the "Light Magic" job in mid- March (and/or were fired. Depending on which party is telling this story). Which really left the Mouse holding the bag.

As a direct result of this ugly incident, Disneyland Entertainment was forced to turn to WDI and beg the Imagineers to come save their "streetacular." Get the help that they needed to finish installing all the fiber optics on the floats as well as come up with a programmable illuminator (I.E. The type of light source that's typically used to power fiber optics).

It was bad enough that Disneyland's Entertainment Office got saddled with all these behind-the-scenes technical snafus. These they might have been able to handle. Maybe not during "Light Magic"'s first year of operation. But certainly by the "streetacular"'s second summer in 1998. (Believe it or not, that was actually the unofficial mantra of the whole "Light Magic" production team: "Don't worry about all the rough spots in this year's version of the show. We'll fix all of those during the off-season. Just wait 'til you see next year's version of 'Light Magic.' That one's really going to be spectacular." Sigh )

But then DL's Entertainment staff found itself saddled with tall of his confusing publicity that was leaped up around "Light Magic." The worst part of it was - most of this mis-leading material had been generated by other divisions of the Walt Disney Company.

Take - for example - this article from the Summer 1997 issue of "Disney Magazine." It was bad enough that the initial mention of LM on the magazine's cover called the show a "New Disneyland Parade" - NOT a "streetacular." But then the story went on to insist on using "Light Magic"'s ill-fitting subtitle ? a "Spectacular Journey" ? as part of its headline.

As the days dwindled down 'til "Light Magic"'s world premiere, DL's Entertainment staff really began to regret this "A Spectacular Journey" label that Disney's marketing department had stuck on the show. Why? Because "Light Magic" wasn't actually a parade. It was a street show that stayed in one place for 20 minutes while it was being performed. So why was "Light Magic" being promoted to the public as "A Spectacular Journey" when the show didn't go anywhere? In order to "Journey," doesn't something have to travel first?

Then there were all those vague but ridiculous sounding quotes about "Light Magic" had been sprinkled among these advance pieces in "Disney" magazine and the "Magic Key" newsletter. Take ? for example ? this beauty from Mike Davis, vice president of Entertainment. When describing the "streetacular," Mike was quoted as saying: "The power and magic of light come from within the floats and then are transferred to the performers and go out into the audience." Which made "Light Magic" sound like something Shirley Maclaine had cooked up.

Articles like these in official Disney publications gave Disneyana fans all sorts of mistaken ideas about what they should expect when these folks finally got to see the show. Still, all those bizarre, misleading PR pieces must have struck a nerve with someone. For several thousand Disneyland's Annual Passholders actually plunked down $25 for the privilege of attending "Light Magic"'s world premiere.

When was this special event held? May 13, 1997. A date that will live in Disneyana infamy.

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