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A Re-Voltin' Development

Attractions: Fans react, many none too lightly, at the coming demise of Disneyland's 24-year-old Electrical Parade.

April 12, 1996|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — "Glowing, glowing . . . gone!"

That's the slogan Disneyland is using to spread the news that, after a run of nearly a quarter of a century, the park is pulling the plug on its Main Street Electrical Parade in October.

But many fans of the parade, which uses about 750,000 bulbs, aren't taking the news of a farewell season, well, lightly.

"I just love this parade," Kimberly Wells, 20, said at the park earlier this week. "I don't know why they're getting rid of it."

"It's part of childhood," added Denee Moldenhauer, 16, also from Covina. "You grow up with it. Then it goes away. . . . "

Others among the throngs who arrived 75 minutes early to get curbside seats along the parade route have accepted its demise, originally announced last fall, more dispassionately.

"It'll be different not to have it around," said Mike Van Hoven of Ontario, attending with his children. "But they'll find something else."

In fact, the parade will make way for an as-yet unannounced nighttime attraction based on newer technology set to debut in 1997. By the time the Blue Fairy, who begins each parade, hangs up her magical wand--the exact ending date hasn't been set--an estimated 75 million people will have viewed some 4,000 performances.

*

When Disney introduced the parade in 1972, the rolling procession of twinkling lights with multichannel electronically synthesized sound was the first of its kind.

The "music of the light" was adapted from "Baroque Hoedown," a 1967 synthesizer piece by Gershon Kingsley and Jean Jacques Perrey. Disney melodies were superimposed using electronically combined calliope, harpsichord and glockenspiel sounds.

Today, 29 floats move through 32 audio zones from "It's a Small World" in Fantasyland to Town Square on Main Street USA. Fiber optics deliver the music to 73 speakers--hidden on poles, in building facades, in planters and even in the ground along the parade route--for seamless cross-fading between zones. The procession lasts 30 minutes and features 100 performers.

The parade took a hiatus in 1975-76 and again in 1983-84. Floats have come and gone. Elliott, the star of "Pete's Dragon" who surprises guests by disappearing and blowing steam from his nostrils, appeared in 1977 and has remained ever since. "It's a Small World" and "Briny Deep" were retired in 1983.

The most recent float additions, 11 years ago, included a pirate ship scene from "Peter Pan," and a sparkling look at a diamond mine from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Because this is the farewell season, park officials let media representatives tour backstage areas to see the myriad details of the Electrical Parade.

They learned from costuming foreman Greg Wilcox that the parade uses 40 different costumes, of two types: lit and unlit. Wilcox allowed that before battery packs became an option, costumes were plugged in by long cords. He knows of no other production that combines lame fabrics and glittering lights, "not even in Vegas."

In 1985, at the age of 16, Tricia Anderson became one of Cinderella's court princesses (who, by the way, wear wigs). Today, at 27, she's the parade's production stage manager, overseeing all details on a nightly basis.

"If a light is out, we'll get that set," she vowed. One electrician each night focuses on the costumes, another on the floats. Anderson, who is six months' pregnant, said she's "a little sad" about the parade's impending demise but is comforted knowing she can show her child her scrapbook.

Chris Andrews also started as a parade performer. Now he's Electrical Parade drive general foreman in charge of floats. "EPDGF, that's me," Andrews said.

Journalists were allowed to try their hands at a "whirlybug" drive unit that powers six bugs (e.g., turtle with glasses, pink snail, gold firefly) in the "Alice in Wonderland" unit.

Steering bugs is no tea party.

"Same idea as an airplane," Andrews said. "Forward, push. Neutral, hands off. Reverse, pull back. Hold to one side, the bugs spin as fast as they can." Each bug chassis has a wheel in front and rear and one on either side; four six-volt batteries power each unit.

"It's very sensitive," Andrews said. "You can't be white-knuckling. If you're calm, you'll float through the cones." Prospective drivers take a slalom test among orange cones as part of the interview process.

Andrews recalled his worst parade nightmare, from 1989:

"We'd gotten three minutes into the Electrical Parade, and there was a torrential downpour. As you know, water and electricity don't mix. The front part of the parade had to do a quick U-turn, the other floats we had to pull to the side until we could do U-turns. We'd been out the gate for three minutes; it took about two hours to get back to the building."

Back out on the parade route, the procession provides a running synopsis of Disney history. A drum train passes by with Mickey Mouse and Minnie. Cinderella's clock perpetually strikes midnight. A hippopotamus from "The Jungle Book" floats by.

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