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#TBT: Disneyland’s Light Magic

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Werner Weiss for
photo courtesy of Werner Weiss for

Throwback Thursday

Quick! Name three Disney Park nighttime spectaculars!

Main Street Electrical Parade!


Light Magic!

…wait. What was that last one?

“Light Magic?”

Many of you might be scratching your heads at the last nighttime spectacular mentioned here. Light Magic wasn’t a parade, wasn’t based on any Disney movie, and wasn’t very liked at all. That’s why the show only lasted 15 weeks in the summer of 1997 despite being heavily promoted for a year.

Yet, when you watch Light Magic, you can see elements of Disney Parks parades from the new millenium appearing in its earliest forms. And if you listen, you can hear one of my favorite Disney Parks soundtracks of all time. Let’s look back at Light Magic.

Before reading further, take some time to see what Light Magic looked like:

A Brief History

Disneyland Park had been riding high with its incredible nighttime parade, The Main Street Electrical Parade. It had been marching down Main Street, U.S.A., for almost 25 years, and was beloved by many. But in 1996 the folks at Disney decided to retire the parade and introduce a new show called Light Magic, which would premiere in the summer of 1997.

The show wasn’t a parade, but alternated between Main Street, U.S.A., and the Small World corridor at different times in the night. The music would start, the floats would roll out at the beginning and stop at specific locations, the characters would get out and do a 15-minute dance (there was a LOT of dancing), and then everything would roll away.

Unfortunately, the planning stages were not structured properly, according to former Imagineer Bob Gurr, and the Annual Pass preview night was a huge disaster on May 13, bringing about negative word-of-mouth reviews.

photo courtesy of Allen Huffman for
photo courtesy of Allen Huffman for

The reasons why the summer spectacular failed are easy to see in the video above: the floats were so far from each other that if you were stuck in between them, you couldn’t see anything; there were too many generic pixies and not enough actual Disney characters; and the video projections were difficult to view. The show went away after Labor Day weekend, never to return.

View more pictures and historical information at

Borrowed for Light Magic

When I watched this video, I noticed several elements that were likely taken from other Disney shows. The projection of Disney movie scenes in a montage form were used very successfully in Fantasmic! The song from The Main Street Electrical Parade – “Baroque Hoedown” – was placed at the end of the show.

Unfortunately, while these aspects were used well in their original forms, they did not translate that well into Light Magic. When “Baroque Hoedown” played, I’m sure many people just wished they were watching The Main Street Electrical Parade instead.

Borrowed from Light Magic

However, there were many elements that were taken from Light Magic that were used in many parades and shows following it.

For example, there is a portion in Light Magic where the characters got people from the audience and danced around with them. This may not have started with Light Magic, but it certainly has continued in shows like The Festival of the Lion King and Disney’s Magical Moments parade. (I remember watching my 7-year-old brother get picked to be in both those shows and being very jealous.)

The stopped floats were also something that began at this time (in 1996 with the Magic Kindgom’s Remember the Magic parade and in Disneyland with Light Magic) and still is used in the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party. The floats are taller and better spaced now, allowing for decent viewing from all over the Hub.

Light Magic originally was going to feature Tinker Bell flying over all the floats and being the master of ceremonies, but that idea was abandoned. However, Tinker Bell and her fairy friends still live on in (get this!) Pixie Hollow. The fairies definitely look better than the pixies ever did.

If I really wanted to be picky, I could also mention that several characters play instruments in the show – horns and drums – and how parades like Mickey’s Soundsational Parade and the Festival of Fantasy parade also incorporated instruments with great success.

The best part of Light Magic

In my never-ending search for Disney Parks music, I stumbled upon the soundtrack for Light Magic and fell in love. That’s what caused me to start researching this little-known show and discover its “Light Tragic” past. I was very disappointed to hear the bad rap it had, even though many of the technical complaints were probably justified.

photo courtesy of Allen Huffman for
photo courtesy of Allen Huffman for

I was disappointed because I loved the music so much. Celtic music is one of my favorite styles of music (my hometown has a Celtic Festival every year, so I’m accustomed to Celtic music), and I adore how instruments like uilleann pipes and tin whistles are incorporated into the main theme (“Dream Our Dream”) and more familiar Disney songs like “Little April Shower” and “Be Our Guest.”

Not only is the music great, the choreography that goes with it is not your standard Disney choreography. The step-dancing done by all the characters (even the fur characters) is fun to watch. Not only do they dance, they dance for a long time! It’s not a 3-minute loop of dancing, either, like most parades nowadays.

Bring it back?

I hesitate to demand that this show be brought back, since we already have some great parades on both coasts of the United States at the moment. But what about a castle show, using the fantastic musical score and bringing in even more Disney magic through projection screens and fireworks? Take out the pixies and leave that dreamlike atmosphere with obligatory Disney movie clips, and I would be sold.

Let’s face it: the music of Light Magic is (in my opinion) better than most of the original themes introduced since IllumiNations. (But let’s save that tangent for another blog post, shall we?)

The idea of Light Magic was a good one, but the execution was sloppy, and the fact that it replaced the most popular Disney parade of all time guaranteed it for failure. But it is amazing to see how many elements of that show are used today in the parks, and my hope is that the wonderful musical themes can be revived and enjoyed by new generations of Disney fans.

The pixies, however, can stay in storage.


Had you heard of Light Magic before this post? What did you think of what you saw? Did you fall in love with the music as much as I did? Were you one of the few Disneyland visitors who saw Light Magic in 1997? Comment below!

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Claire Nat

I've been enjoying Walt Disney World since my Nana pushed my sister's and my strollers back in the late 1980s. I enjoy my day job here in the Denver area as a teacher and music coordinator at our church. I love music, reading, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Michigan sports!

2 thoughts on “#TBT: Disneyland’s Light Magic

  • It definitely has a certain charm to it, thanks for sharing! I really like the fibreoptic look of the floats and they seem so detailed. I think the pipes probably would have me misty-eyed even at a jolly event like a parade because they always seem to do that to me. :p

    I’ll have to look up other MSEP music because I never bother with that parade and oddly, I only ever seem to hear Baroque Hoedown when dashing from one ride to the next!

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one with misty-eyes issues at Disney! My favorite MSEP music was used during the turn of the millenium – the new version is okay, but I have a CD of the old one and love it!


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