Disneyland’s new 1.5 million-light show Paint the Night recalls the upbeat and offbeat nature of the Main Street Electrical Parade and is a worthy successor to the beloved nighttime parade that left the Anaheim theme park nearly two decades ago.
Based on a parade at Hong Kong Disneyland, the new Paint the Night is part of the Anaheim theme park’s 60th anniversary celebration with floats from "Cars," "Toy Story," "Monsters Inc.," "Beauty and the Beast," "Little Mermaid" and “Frozen” as well as 76 performers in lighted costumes.
Paint the Night starts with a float featuring the feisty and silly Tinkerbell wearing a glowing green dress that sets a “light” tone for the rest of the parade -- in both the high-wattage and light-hearted sense of the word.
The most massive float by far is Mack, a life-size version of the big-rig truck from “Cars” powered by 25,000 lights. Mack’s bobtail trailer is filled with volumetric lights that cycle through a seemingly endless array of mesmerizing displays.
My favorite float: Slinky from “Toy Story,” which features spinning disks filled with light that serve as his coiled body.
The highlight for fans will almost certainly be the “Frozen” float featuring Elsa, Anna and Olaf. Like many of the floats in the parade, the ice castle’s translucent materials glow from within and change colors throughout the procession.
The “Monster’s Inc.” and “Beauty and the Beast” floats incorporate animated video that could have been overused but was thankfully restrained.
In a nod to Main Street Electrical Parade, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy sit rather awkwardly atop lighted spherical mini-floats that perfectly preserve the whimsical wackiness of the original nighttime parade.
As usual, Mickey Mouse rides the finale float featuring a spellbinding, spinning kinetic sculpture that looks like a kitschy modern take on a 1970s disco ball.
The real life of the parade is the dancers and performers that frequently interact with the crowd from a few inches away.
The Carz Crew typifies the between-float performances with a choreographed routine that emphasizes their dance moves while also highlighting the high-tech capabilities of their LED-lighted costumes, which amazingly blink, pulse and glow in time to the music.
Among my favorite performers: The puppeteers that manipulate 20-foot-tall Tiger, Aladdin and Lumiere wire-frame figures with their hands and feet.
Many of the costumes reminded me of classic Las Vegas showgirl outfits with their outrageous plumage. The parade’s most memorable costumes featured performers dressed as luminescent coral fish, electric jellyfish and jagged ice crystals.
From a production standpoint, most if not all the lights on the costumes need to be brighter, which hopefully can be achieved with a few adjustments to the massive computer software program running the show.
Indeed, the visually stunning LED lights on the floats and costumes that change color in time to the music right before our eyes are the real surprise of the show.
The original Electrical Parade left Disneyland in 1996 after a nearly quarter-century-long run with a farewell that promised the parade would “glow away forever.” The beloved parade was briefly replaced in 1997 by Light Magic, a mercilessly panned production that barely lasted the summer. Then in 2001, the Electrical Parade returned to Disney’s California Adventure for a nearly-decade long run.
While Paint the Night is nowhere near as majestic and massive as Main Street Electrical Parade, the new production is light years ahead of its predecessor from a technological standpoint.
The hokey, low-tech Electrical Parade survived for years on nostalgia. While I loved the parade, I often marveled at how much the creaky, old floats looked like elaborate Christmas light displays and often imagined that the whole production was being held together by bailing wire and duct tape.
Paint the Night somehow manages to take a modern step forward while still maintaining the bizarre quirkiness and wacky whimsicality of Main Street Electrical Parade.
If I have one knock against Disney parades in general, it’s that they all too often fail to tell a simple yet coherent story. Instead, they opt to convey a single big idea, in this case, “Let’s light up the night.” This strategy inevitably leads to a long cavalcade of familiar characters without much in the way of a back story.
I understand that it’s a lot to ask of a parade, but Disney puts a premium on storytelling and has successfully weaved tales into its other nighttime spectaculars. I would prefer to see Disneyland take one hot property like “Frozen” or even a tried-and-true theme like Heroes and Villains and build a cohesive story around a parade that has a beginning, middle and end with a cast of characters that has some relevance to the overall plot.
In the end, Paint the Night left me with a dance in my step and the parade’s infectiously perky theme song stuck in my head as I walked out of the park.
While I will continue to miss Main Street Electrical Parade, Disneyland’s new Paint the Night seems like a suitable heir that I hope has an equally long run of success.