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What to expect for Disneyland's 60th anniversary celebration

Disneyland will add plenty of polish, sparkle and bombast for its 60th anniversary celebration

What do you give a 60-year-old theme park that has everything?

How about a nighttime parade transplanted from Hong Kong Disneyland and an anniversary-themed update to its long-running fireworks show?

Disneyland's 60th Anniversary: Overview | Parade | Fireworks Ride Updates

Disneyland will add plenty of polish, sparkle and bombast starting May 22 as the Anaheim theme park celebrates its 60th anniversary with a nostalgia-soaked diamond jubilee.  

Across the esplanade at Disney California Adventure, the “World of Color” water show will get a new story overlay dedicated to the history of Walt Disney and his first theme park.

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At first blush, Disneyland's diamond jubilee plans seem little more than an elaborate version of the park overlays we've come to expect at Halloween and Christmas. Take a holiday parade, toss in some seasonal fireworks, sprinkle in a few modest tweaks to a nighttime spectacular, add a bit of sparkle to the castle and, voila, you have a 60th anniversary celebration.

But the run-of-the-mill anniversary offerings could prove more spectacular than the business-as-usual lineup would suggest due to the involvement of one man: Steve Davison.

As Walt Disney Imagineering’s creative director in charge of parades and spectaculars, Davison was the driving force behind the wildly successful “World of Color” water show at Disney California Adventure and has been instrumental in making Disneyland’s parades more upbeat and the fireworks shows more immersive.

The new "Paint the Night" parade has been successfully operating at Hong Kong Disneyland since September and with 1.5 million LED lights is being billed at Disneyland as the successor to the beloved "Main Street Electrical Parade.”

Described as “overwhelmingly bright,” the new nighttime parade will feature 76 performers in lighted costumes that change color in time to the musical soundtrack, which will be recorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios and pay tribute to the Electrical parade’s indelible “Baroque Hoedown.”

Using Hong Kong as a guide, the “Paint the Night” parade is expected to feature floats from "Cars," "Toy Story," "Monsters Inc.," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Little Mermaid." The procession will kick off with a Tinker Bell float and conclude with a Mickey Mouse float. The signature drum float from the Electrical parade will make a nostalgic appearance.

The “Disneyland Forever” fireworks show will feature a new soundtrack, projection mapping throughout the park and appearances by characters from “The Jungle Book” and “Peter Pan.”

Disneyland has used projection mapping on Sleeping Beauty castle and It’s a Small World in the past with tremendous success, marrying animated imagery to the architecture of the buildings to create a digital skin that morphs and moves.

In hopes of thinning the gridlock crowds on Main Street U.S.A. and spreading the teeming hordes throughout the park during the “Forever” fireworks show, Disneyland will introduce projection mapping on Matterhorn mountain and the Fantasmic stage area along the Rivers of America in addition to the castle and Small World locations.

Richard Sherman, who created music with his songwriting brother for the Enchanted Tiki Room and It’s a Small World attractions as well as scores of Disney movies, has written an original song for the new fireworks show: “Kiss Goodnight.”

Perhaps the most intriguing of the new diamond jubilee additions is the “Celebrate” overlay planned for DCA’s World of Color, which promises to tell the story of Walt Disney’s dream for Disneyland.

“Celebrate” will hopefully offer a much-needed break from the recent trend of turning shows, parades and nighttime spectaculars into little more than a cavalcade revue of popular Disney characters strung together with the loosest semblance of a story line. The compelling “Celebrate” story seems like a fresh departure from the recent broad stroke appeal-to-the-masses approach to entertainment at the parks.

It remains to be seen if Disneyland has any additional plans for the diamond jubilee. MiceChat reports that the Disneyland marketing department has proposed a 60-hour kickoff party for the 60th anniversary that would be similar to the 24-hour events held at the park over the past few years.

Not surprisingly, the recent announcement of anniversary plans for the Anaheim parks drew a collective yawn from the Disneyland faithful who have pretty much known what to expect for the 60th for the better part of a year.

Those holding out hope for a new attraction along the lines of an Iron Man e-ticket or a new themed land based on the "Star Wars" franchise will have to wait a little longer.

What visitors will get instead is a repeat of the surprisingly successful 50th anniversary Happiest Homecoming on Earth, which proved so lucrative that Disney brass extended the celebration over two summers to keep the cash registers ringing.

With ever-dwindling space and ever-growing crowds, the gracefully aging park will once again opt to trade on nostalgia, memories and emotions rather than try to expand or evolve.

Indeed, Disneyland has added no truly new attractions in two decades -- the last being the Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995.

Since then, Disneyland has seen a series of rehabs (Star Tours), refreshes (It's a Small World), re-themes (Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage) and clones (Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters). The star-crossed and short-lived Rocket Rods in 1998 was the park's last attempt at groundbreaking innovation.

For the past decade, Walt Disney Imagineering has spent most of its time, energy and budget opening and then fixing Disney California Adventure, to the neglect of its elder sibling across the promenade.

Not surprisingly, there was no mention in the 60th anniversary announcement of DCA's plans for the Soarin' flight simulator (which is currently undergoing a rehab and widely expected to reopen with a new international story line) or Luigi's Flying Tires floating bumper cars (which is expected to close in the coming weeks for a lengthy rehab that could see an entirely new ride system installed).


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