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Light Magic Opens, but Where's Parade?

Theme park review: Disneyland's new nighttime show leaves some viewers wanting more floats, less pixie dust.

May 23, 1997|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Light Magic or Light Tragic?

That was the question being debated hotly leading up to Wednesday's media preview for Disneyland's new nighttime show, the one for which park officials pulled the plug last year on the much-loved Main Street Electrical Parade.

Today, with the flick of a digital switch, Light Magic's public opening heralds a new frontier at the park. The show incorporates 2,500 miles of fiber optics, animated film, an original musical score and a cast and crew of 125. Theatrical effects include star strobes, smoke effects, confetti blasts and computerized moving lights.

But only four floats--or specifically, 80-foot platforms that park officials prefer to call "rolling stages." Whatever they're called, there are far fewer of them than the 29 floats that made up the Main Street Electrical Parade. And once they are in place, they remain stationary, making viewers focus on just one at a time.

"Is this it for the whole parade?" asked one child at curbside when no more floats arrived. The same child was entranced enough when the show ended 14 minutes later to call out, "Nooo, take me with you!"

Disney types also shy away from the word "parade," opting instead to call it a "streetacular."

David Thai, 11, of Long Beach, when asked how it was, responded succinctly: "Good!"

As good as he thought it was going to be?

"No."

What would have made it better?

"More floats."

Following last week's preview performances/dress rehearsals, "Light NO Magic" and "pathetic!" were among assessments to hit the Internet, igniting a cyber war between users apparently falling into two camps: annual pass-holders (occasionally referred to in electronic messages as "passholes") and Disney crew members.

So how is the show?

*

Think Michael Flatley meets Cirque du Soleil on Main Street--on a pixie scale. It's almost nonstop Celtic-flavored song and dance in fantasy garb. Unfortunately, if Disney is hoping for another quarter-century run, Irish step dancing may prove all too topical.

The show also lapses into sentimentality a little too often. While it's theme of making dreams come true should be a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, by the time it gets to a revue of dreams coming true in past animated blockbuster Disney films, the sentiment quota has been filled. Filmed sequences of kids looking skyward and laughing sends the sap meter soaring.

The fact is, Disney is at its best when tapping into the dark side--Fantasmic remaining the park's finest moment in that respect--and here it's predominantly expressed in the grotesquerie and pointy ears of the costumed pixie faces, and a brief "thunderstorm" recalling Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony sequence from "Fantasia."

Each rolling stage resembles some self-contained psychedelic hothouse, where the flowers change colors when touched by one of the 16 pixies aboard each one. Interacting with the pixies are dozens of instantly recognizable Disney characters--in pajamas because it's nighttime.

Despite the show's apparent aim to dazzle, the simplest effects in Light Magic are the most memorable. One of the best was one of the first, Tinkerbell as a baseball-sized fireball flitting about; unfortunately it needs some tinkering. On Wednesday, Tinkerbell crashed and burned, the flare-like device falling with a clunk, still burning, near some startled children; officials stomped on her until she contained herself in a trolley track.

Colorful moving lights on the building trims were simply affecting ideas and came off glitch-free. And kids are often plucked from the crowd to participate, another big plus.

Pixies tossing about silver confetti--pixie dust--and larger confetti storms had most children squealing in delight, but there were exceptions. "Look what she did to our food!" exclaimed one little girl after a dusting left her meal inedible.

The only time the crowd clapped along with the music was with a snippet from the inescapable Main Street Electrical Parade theme. And that was the tune--as infectious and more musically sophisticated as the Light Magic score is--that families went out humming. Maybe with time. Or a little more magic.

* Light Magic is presented four times nightly through the summer at Disneyland, 1313 N. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Park admission: $26-$36. (714) 781-4565.

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