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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 6

Jim Hill

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Remembering "Light Magic" -- Part 6

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You honestly have to wonder what's worse: Having disaster strike you unexpectedly, or knowing full well that you're marching to your doom.

Disneyland's Entertainment staff didn't really have a choice in the matter. By the middle of March 1997, they already knew that "Light Magic" was in serious trouble. Lazarus Lighting Design - the Los Angeles based fiber optics firm that the Mouse had hired to design & build its floats - had walked off the job. And - since construction of the floats wasn't complete 'til the middle of May - the show's cast couldn't rehearse on the floats or even familiarize themselves with the layout of the enormous "rolling stages."

Mind you, all of these problems were fixable. If DL Entertainment only had a little more time. But Disneyland management wouldn't dream of allowing the premiere of the theme park's new "streetacular" to be pushed back or postponed. Under pressure from the resort's Merchandise, Marketing and Special Events offices, DL Management insisted that "Light Magic" stick to its previously announced schedule. Which meant that the new show still had to debut on May 13th as the main event of Disneyland's annual passholders "Light Magic" premiere party.

It's at moments like this that you have to wonder: Could anything have helped to avert this disaster? I mean, what if the Entertainment Office hadn't cut so many corners on the "Light Magic" show?

You see, one of the main complaints that was heard about "Light Magic" - both at the annual passholders' premiere party as well as at the "streetacular"'s more public performances weeks later - was that Disneyland guests got confused as to who these Pixie characters were supposed to be. Were they really friends of Tinker Bell? Or was there more to the story? More importantly, why did these creatures suddenly appear in the theme park after dark?

Originally, Disneyland's Entertainment office actually did have an answer to these questions. According to "Light Magic"'s original scenario: In the hour or so before the first nightly performance of the "streetacular" got underway, streetmosphere performers masquerading as pixie hunters were supposed to have roamed the parade route. Along the way, these cast members would repeatedly ask Disneyland visitors if they'd seen any of the magical sprites. When asked "What's a pixie," these folks would then proceed to humorously fill the guests in on the pixies' backstory.

You see, the pixies were basically Tinker Bell wanna-bes. They lived in a fairyland far beyond the mortal realm. But - occasionally - when conditions were just right, a magical gateway would open up between our world and theirs. Which would allow the pixies to briefly enter our world and - hopefully - teach us the secret of their magic.

The streetmosphere performers would stress - by comically pointing at some ancient charts and/or looking through a telescope - that the signs seemed right for a pixie visit. The stars were aligned in the proper positions. So everyone needed to be on the lookout for these magical creatures ... which could arrive at any minute.

In the meantime, the pixie hunters would hurry off, saying that they've got to go warn Mickey about this pending cosmic occurrence. "You know those Toons," the streetmosphere performers would say at they continued along the parade route. "They hit the hay right after the sun sets. If we don't wake them up in time, they'll probably sleep through the whole thing."

You see what would have happened here - if Disneyland's Entertainment staff had just stuck with their original "Light Magic" script? Guests lining the parade route would have been fed plenty of info about the pending "streetacular." Who the pixies were. Where they'd come from. What an amazing event it was to have these creatures visit our world and (hopefully) share their magic. And - more importantly - Disneyland visitors would have finally gotten a logical explanation as to why the Disneyland characters suddenly appeared in the street wearing their pajamas.

Sounds like a pretty cool way to have started the show, right? Wait. It gets better. If the Entertainment Staff had stuck with their original plans for "Light Magic," nightly performances of the "streetacular" would have started off with Main Street U.S.A. and the "Small World" mall being cloaked in darkness and fog. That's right. Fog.

Fog machines would have been set up at the top of the LM performance area, supposedly suggesting where the doorway had opened between the pixies' other-worldly home and our own. Then the "rolling stages" would have dramatically emerged from this fog bank, with just a few of their fiber optic elements twinkling in the dark. To enhance this effect, each of the four floats was supposed to have been outfitted with its own fog machine. As chemical smoke billowed off from under the rolling stages, DL Entertainment hoped that the floats might resemble actual pieces of Fairyland that had somehow broken off and floated into our world.

Over the park's loudspeakers, an unseen narrator would have recapped the story that the pixie hunters had told park guests previously. How on extra special nights, a magical doorway opens between our world and the fairy realm. How - if we're lucky - the pixies might appear and teach us the secret of making our dreams come true.

After this, there'd be a moment of quiet. Then something in the darkness would stir. Stepping out of the shadows, still somewhat shrouded by the fog, a pixie would appear. Not noticing the audience at first, she would yawn & stretch. And then ...

Okay. You get the idea now, right? Disneyland Entertainment originally had a much more mystical, much more magical introduction in mind for "Light Magic" and its pixie characters. Something that would have done a much better job of setting the stage for the show that followed ... And yet - on the very day that "Light Magic"'s auditions were set to begin - DL's Entertainment staff suddenly decided to drop the "streetacular"'s pre-show (I.E. the pixie hunters patrolling the parade route) as well as ditch the fog machines.

And why the hell did they do that? Well, to put it simply, there are those at DL Entertainment who felt that Disneyland guests would "get" the concept behind "Light Magic" without the extra added expense of the pixie hunters and/or the fog machines. That it wasn't really necessary to actually spell out what was going on prior to the start of the "streetacular." That DL guests would see the enormous rolling stages and figure out all by themselves that something other-worldly was about to begin.

Of course, other staffers disagreed. They argued that - unless Disneyland Entertainment did a proper job of setting the stage for "Light Magic," using those crucial first few minutes to clue the audience in on the style and tone of the show to follow - DL guests would be hopelessly confused by what they were about to see.

Senior members of the creative team at Disneyland Entertainment pooh-poohed this notion ... Until - of course - they saw how the annual passholders reacted on May 13th during "Light Magic"'s premiere party.

Anyway ... By now, I'm sure you're all aware that a great number of the annual passholders who actually attended that night's festivities were gravely disappointed in the version of the "streetacular" that they got to see. But then - given that a lot of the floats' fiber optic elements weren't working properly that evening and that several of the show's dancers had trouble performing the Irish step-dance inspired choreography on the narrow rolling stages - it's easy to understand why some folks might have been a bit miffed at what they saw at the event.

But what one thing was it that drove those in attendance over the edge that evening? Made these normal docile AP-types turn into raging, "Light Magic" hating maniacs? Several annual passholders have suggested to me that it was Disneyland President Paul Pressler's less-than-truthful remarks that night that really set their blood boiling.

Prior to "Light Magic"'s performance in the Main Street U.S.A. area, Pressler started out by sucking up to the assembled annual passholders. Calling them Disneyland's "most important guests, very much a part of our Disney family." After that slick intro, Paul then allegedly tried to pull a fast one.

Rather than admit that "Light Magic" really wasn't ready for public performances, Disneyland's president went on to say that the annual passholders were about to see something really unique. They were about to be given "the opportunity to see something that's a little behind the scenes. So tonight, you're going to see the first of what will be many rehearsals that come down this Main Street."

""Rehearsals?!,' " the annual passholders cried. "You mean this show isn't finished yet? But I paid $25 bucks to attend the world premiere of 'Light Magic.' Not some stinking rehearsal!"

Of course, the annual passholders' grumpy mood wasn't helped by the many technical glitches that marred that evening's performance. A particular bad moment came just as "Light Magic"'s rolling stages rolled into their start positions. For some reason, the show's computers refused to acknowledge that the floats were all in place and LM was now ready to begin. So the computers kept playing "Light Magic"'s intro music over and over and over ...

After eight minutes of celtic pipes blaring away, blasting annual passholders' ear drums, Disneyland technicians finally arrived and shut the computer in question down. After rebooting the system, the AP crew was discouraged to hear that same painful piece of pipe music begin again. However, this time around, the on-board computer finally acknowledged that all of the "streetacular"'s rolling stages were actually in their start positions. So - when the proper moment came - the computer smoothly transitioned to the next piece of music in the show, which finally allowed that particular performance of "Light Magic" to get underway.

Still - given all the glitches that had occurred that evening - many annual passholders were deeply unhappy with their "Light Magic" premiere party experience. Which why they dropped by City Hall and demanded their money back. To their credit, Disneyland staffers did refund the cost of the event's $25 ticket to anyone who asked. They extended this courtesy to those folks who stopped by City Hall that evening (It's been rumored that - at one point - the line of disgruntled annual passholders reached all the way to the Emporium) as well as those who mailed in their "Light Magic" premiere party ticket stubs well after the fact.

Based on the annual passholders' less-than-thrilled reaction to that night's show (Yes, there were a few boos heard over the course of the event as well as a couple of cries to "Bring back the Electrical Parade!"), Disneyland's Entertainment staff knew that they still had a lot of work to do on "Light Magic." Which why they ordered the entire production team to report to work early on May 14th. In a last ditch effort to fix / save the show.

The immediate plan of action was to A) overhaul the choreography B) add some voiceover narration to shore up the shaky story elements of the show and C) finish installing the rest of the rolling stages' fiber optics and special effects elements. Disneyland Entertainment staff hoped that - once all of these changes were in place - "Light Magic"'s official premiere (AKA the press event) on May 23rd would go much smoother. Perhaps even be a smashing success. That way, the show's ill-fated annual passholder premiere party could just fade from memory. Like some sort of bad dream.

What DL's Entertainment office didn't realize was - even as they began work on May 14th to fix the show - several of the more computer savvy annual passholders who had attended the previous evening's event were already at home, hammering away at their keyboards. Spreading the word about what an awful time they'd had at the LM premiere party. Telling anyone who would listen what a dud "Light Magic" was.

What's funny about this is ... The Walt Disney Company actually thought that they'd be able to use the Internet to help promote Disneyland's new "streetacular." That's one of the reasons that they made a "Light Magic" screen saver available for downloading from the official Disneyland website. (Folks who want to see what that screen saver looked like would be well advised to follow this link - - over to thrillmountain.com, where these nice guys have actually archived a copy of the program. Thanks, fellas!)

Little did the Mouse realize that the Web wouldn't turn out to be a very effective promotional vehicle for "Light Magic." It was - however - one of the main reasons that Disneyland ultimately decided to shut its "streetacular" down.

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