Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland
Main Street Electrical Parade made its Disneyland homecoming earlier this year for what has been billed as a nostalgic, farewell run for the parade that ran down Main Street in Disneyland from 1972 until 1996. The parade was replaced by Light Magic, which quickly became known among fans as “Light Tragic.” (If you’ve never heard of Light Magic, that’s why–it’s run was incredibly short.)
Main Street Electrical Parade then made an encore run at Disney California Adventure from 2001 until 2010 due to that park’s slumping attendance during its first decade. When construction kicked into high gear for World of Color, it could no longer run at DCA…hence it being moved to Walt Disney World for a limited run during Summer Nightastic. That limited run was extended “due to popular demand” (I don’t recall WDW fans clamoring for it to stick around), which ultimately spelled the demise of SpectroMagic, since it was being stored outside, exposed to the elements.
While I’ll never forgive Main Street Electrical Parade for killing SpectroMagic, some Disneyland fans are bigger people than me (or, more likely, they don’t care about Walt Disney World), plenty of Southern Californians feel quite differently about Main Street Electrical Parade. The parade was originally only going to run for the spring, before being extended “due to popular demand.” In this case, Disney’s marketing was accurate, and there really was popular demand to extend Main Street Electrical Parade’s run. In this post, I’ll share some of my photos of the parade, along with thoughts about the parade’s run…
I’ll be blunt and up-front about this: no matter its venue, I’m not a fan of the Main Street Electrical Parade.
I find the parade antiquated and underwhelming. While I absolutely love night/light parades, changes made over the decades to Main Street Electrical Parade coupled with its total lack of updates have chipped away at whatever appeal it might’ve held for me at one point.
With that said, after seeing the parade wobble down Main Street in Disneyland, I kind of get some of the appeal. (How’s that for equivocation?) Main Street Electrical Parade is quaint and nostalgic in a way that is befitting of Disneyland.
The scale matches that of Disneyland’s more modest castle and welcoming storefronts. There’s something that just feels “right” about seeing a train driven by Goofy and topped by Mickey & Minnie round the corner with Disneyland Presents emblazoned on the side. It’s iconic to Disneyland, and a more appropriate parade for the park than Paint the Night.
I’m not sure that’s really saying much. It is not saying that Main Street Electrical Parade–in its current state–is superior to Paint the Night. I know the latter parade is quite divisive: some people absolutely adore it and others wish it would never return to Disneyland. I wouldn’t be surprised if these stark reactions have as much to do with Paint the Night being tonally off for Disneyland as they do the actual quality of the parade.
One thing that’s fascinating to me about Disneyland–and that extends far beyond the respective fandoms of these two parades–is the internal strife between the nostalgic and the modern. These two parades probably best epitomize the division, as both parades still exist, if not coexist.
There’s a lot to this dichotomy that’s beyond the scope of this post, but the easiest way to break it down is by how long one has been a fan, or whether it’s just a passing interest in the Disney brand thanks to having kids of a certain age. That’s painting with broad, imprecise strokes, but it seems an effective proxy.
When it comes to fans and nostalgia v. modernity, there’s very little middle ground. This is probably as much a result of people choosing to see everything in black and white terms as it is about Disneyland giving fans no reason to believe there’s room for a middle ground.
If you look at recent changes to the park, there are few things that toe the line between being both nostalgic and modern. There have been throwback events and anniversaries that celebrate the past.
Then there are, separately, major projects aimed at modernizing the park, which have been at odds with the ‘charm’ and intimacy of Disneyland. Additions like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Paint the Night exemplify this, but smaller projects are also demonstrative.
In a perfect world, the nostalgic elements of Disneyland would be updated to embrace modern technology and new additions would fit within this mold, rather than eschewing it. Rather than effectively replacing Main Street Electrical Parade with Paint the Night, a polar opposite in many regards, it would be replaced with something akin to Dreamlights–or have its aging floats updated with new effects.
In fairness, Disneyland does this, too. Updates to Peter Pan’s Flight, Alice in Wonderland, Haunted Mansion, and the Matterhorn have all been made with this end in mind. Heck, even though the changes to the Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad were born of necessity, this was a consideration–and result–of their updates, as well.
While we can quibble over the quality of the changes to each of these attractions (I’d argue they were all, more or less, changes for the better), I think it’s impossible to quibble over the impetus for the updates, and the spirit in which they were made.
Not that updates are on the table for it, anyway, but it’s understandable why Disneyland fans would be content with Main Street Electrical Parade running as-is, without updates being made to it. That’s the version of the parade with the freshest sense of nostalgia (after a long run at DCA) for them, even if it is a truncated version. Plus, there’d no doubt be skepticism among Disneyland purists over any updates to the parade that might occur given the end result with Paint the Night.
Love it or hate it (I’m somewhere in the middle), I think there’s little dispute that Paint the Night is not as good of a fit for Disneyland’s cozy Main Street. On the other hand, Paint the Night feels like it’ll fit Disney California Adventure like a glove, and between the more spacious parade route and more modern, high-energy vibe of DCA, I think Paint the Night will be a great fit for that park.
Anyway, that’s probably enough waxing poetic about nostalgic and modernity at Disneyland, and how this relates to reception of things like the Main Street Electrical Parade. After all, this post is supposed to be about the photos…
The above photo is a long exposure, obviously. On a whim, I decided to set up the tripod while sitting there during the parade after noticing something as an earlier float passed. I couldn’t get it ready quickly enough for the shot I wanted, but I thought this was neat.
That long exposure was taken with my Rokinon 12mm fisheye, whereas most other photos in this post were taken with my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens. All shots were taken with my Nikon D750, which can focus like a champ in low-light situations.
Due to the height of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, most of the time I was photographing these floats when they were still really far away from me.
As the floats came close, the perspective caused them to block Sleeping Beauty Castle. Since my whole aim here was Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland photos, that would’ve been pointless. If all I wanted were photos of this parade, I have gigs of unedited Main Street Electrical Parade photos from Walt Disney World sitting on my hard drives. I could’ve just used those without camping out to see it again in California.
Shutter speeds for most of these photos (save for the long exposure) were around or just above 1/100th of a second. I prefer to use a slightly slower shutter speed for night parades, taking a ton of photos and being comfortable with a low keeper rate. However, with so many moving parts and only one chance to watch Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland, I wanted to focus on nailing the shots, rather than keeping my ISO down.
In the end, I’m glad I got to see Main Street Electrical Parade once, but I won’t shed any tears once it leaves Disneyland. My fear is that it’ll return to Florida or head to Paris, when it should be allowed to retire with dignity. Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris could use nighttime parades, but what those should be–need to be–are parades befitting of those parks featuring cutting-edge technology that will entertainment and wow guests for decades to come. Sure, Main Street Electrical Parade is “better than nothing,” but that is a pretty low bar for world-class Disney theme parks.
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What do you think of Main Street Electrical Parade? Have you seen it at Disneyland? Does the parade hold a lot of nostalgia for you? Are you hoping it returns to Florida or makes its way to Paris, or are you ready for something entirely new? Any photo-related questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
Hi Tom we would love to see SpectroMagic come back to WDW. It was a must see parade every time the entire family came for vacation. It never got old. 3 generations coming together once a year every year to our happiest place on earth we really miss watching Spectro Magic hoping for its return Elizabeth
It’s “been”, not “ben”, unless you’re referring to one named Ben. You should check your own grammar before criticizing other’s you buffoon. lol
Your articles are incredibly enjoyable. They definitely help me keep up to date with a lot of Disney news and have helped me with regards to the parks in many ways. With that said, I do have a minor quibble, as there’s a typo in the first paragraph.
This sentence is incorrect:
(If you’ve never heard of Light Magic, that’s why—it’s run was incredibly short.)
That “it’s” is what makes it problematic. It’s incorrect.
It’s is a contraction for “it is”, while “its” is possessive. In the case of that sentence, you should have used “its” since Light Magic possessed the run. The corrected sentence would have ben something along the lines of:
(If you’ve never heard of Light Magic, that’s why—its run was incredibly short.)
It’s a minor typo, but it’s a noticeable one.
All that aside, great job on your posts.
Speaking from just a WDW perspective: No love here for the MSEP; we were glad it left WDW. We started family trips with our son in 2003, and after years of Spectro Magic, MSEP was a let down for all of us, especially our son who had never seen it before. My husband and I had memories from seeing it as kids, but the nostalgia factor did not outweigh the old, tired look of it. And when MSEP is over and your 13-year old says, “Why would they cancel SpectroMagic for THIS??”, you know it’s really a disappointment. We didn’t watch the night parades after that, but we love the afternoon Festival of Fantasy parade. MSEP shoul never come back anywhere, in my opinion.
I have no nostalgia for MSEP (don’t recall seeing it during its original run(s)) and don’t care for it. I wonder if a lot of the love for it is nostalgia. Nothing wrong with that–but I don’t think it’s appealing to new visitors.
I loved, loved, loved Paint the Night but I see your point about California Adventure and I think that’ll be a great home for it.
I never really felt that much of a divide of PTN. Most people loved it. I talked to a few who enjoyed MSEP more, but they still enjoyed PTN. And honestly, PTN was so awesome that I couldn’t care less if it wasn’t quaint and intimate like the rest of the park. I watched that parade almost daily and never tired of it. Every Guest I brought into the parks immediately fell in love with PTN. I brought one friend in for her first visit, and she listens to the full soundtrack all the time now. She was devastated to learn that it would be gone when she brought her younger sister for her first visit in a few weeks (I assured her that Fantasmic!, which was gone when she was here, would feel that void). But, I’m perfectly ok with PTN moving to DCA. I will still get to see it, and hopefully they can bring a new night parade to DL after the SWGE crowds calm down a bit.
My family and I returned to Disney World this summer for our 8th trip. I knew that MSEP had moved to Disneyland and was sad before we even arrived. I can remember MSEP my first time at 4 years old and then many more years when I lived in Florida. My husband and I spent our first vacation together at Disney World in college and I loved sharing it with our two kids for years after. It was so sad when they asked about MSEP and missed it this year. The current fireworks and lights show, a replacement for MSEP, at Magic Kingdom was horrible. With all the new attractions that Disney incorporates every year, a little bit of nostalgia is what brings us back every year, especially as our children enter their teenage years and we could spend our money vacationing all over the world now that they are older. I would welcome MSEP back to Disney World next year.
I watched MSEP as a kid, and it was nostalgic to see it on our last visit. BUT I am so ready for it to retire! PTN was extremely popular, same with Disneyland Forever, the 60th Anniversary entertainment drew extremely large crowds, to the point where it was almost unbearable to be in the parks. I am glad PTN is going to DCA and not WDW as some wanted. I do wish they would bring back Disneyland Forever. Disneyland will always be my preferred park, but when we bring new guests, they like DCA better. A major reason is less crowded, alcohol, great evening ambiance throughout the park, less wait time for food/merchandise and rides. If you aren’t nostalgic about Disneyland, I could see why someone would like spending more timein DCA. But most APs are more nostalgic for Disneyland, and things like MSEP.
I love the MSEP, but have only ever seen it at WDW. I absolutely loved the dorky, bouncy music and fantastic costumes. On its final run, I watched the livestream and was a little peeved they didn’t show more of the parade and just talllkkkeed the whole time. Still, it was a nice thing for them to stream it at all.
It still felt outdated and not incredibly Disney, though, so I’m looking forward to see what they come up with next. The Festival of Fantasy parade is excellent, and the projection shows on the castle are GREAT, but you basically have to get a fastpass or wait for two hours beforehand to see what is going on. I was SO excited to check out Happily Ever After this past May, but we weren’t willing to wait and get a prime spot, so we watched from the train station…I’m super short, and kids on shoulders ensured that I saw absolutely nothing. Sucks 🙁
I have similar thoughts about Spectromagic. Spectromagic was the Cadillac of all parades with its beautiful music and parade units. MSEP and PTN parades are pale in comparison. Since Spectromagic is gone forever (unless the recreate it), I desperately want a night parade at the MK so I will take MSEP. MSEP at least has nice parade units that represent the classic Disney movies from the 20th century rather than the parade units representing mainly Pixar or modern Disney movies like PTN.
I first saw the MSEP in the early 80s and remember being in awe having never seen or heard anything like it. I loved that parade and the music too and then along came Spectro Magic with its freaky Spectromen, beautiful symphonic music, and even more amazing lighting effects. I always thought it was cool how the floats and characters would turn from white lights to color lights at the snap of a finger (Disney Magic ). I’ll always consider the combination of Spectro Magic and Wishes as being the best night time entertainment the Magic Kingdom ever had (better than what is in place now by a huge margin). I think it’s the beautiful, heart tugging, symphonic melodies and the Jiminy Cricket heart tugging narrative for both of the shows that made them just awesome. It’s appalling that Spectro Magic was left to rot and was not repaired and brought back. So now we have no night time parade at the Magic Kingdom and are left with spectacular projection shows, which feel nowhere near as moving, magical or emotional as the the Spectro Magic/Wishes combo. Given that we have no nighttime light parade, I would love to see the old, neglected, and smaller MSEP back at the Magic Kingdom. As you can probably tell, I would love to have Spectro Magic rebuilt and brought back, strange Spectromen and all.
As a So-Cal kid who only got the park one day a year, we used the parade time to enjoy several rides with short waits. I didn’t see the MSEP until the lone two-day trip I ever took, with my Mom and my late brother right after my parents split up when I was 14. We ended up watching it both nights we enjoyed it so much. As a romantic kid who had just moved from fairy tale stories of balls to light historical romances often centered around balls I loved the ballroom dancers and remembered being amazed that they could dance and move forward and stay in proper position under the canopy as the moved along the parade route.
The photos I had seen of the parade at Magic Kingdom looked all wrong with the scale of Main Street and Cinderella Castle. The parade should have probably only ever been run at Disneyland. I wish I could have seen it one last time, but I can only hope something better that also embodies its spirit (like the photos I have seen of Dreamlights at Tokyo Disneyland) will take its place.
I think I’m a bit of an outlier. I love both MSEP for all the feels (The Baroque Hoedown was my wedding recessional music) and PtN for the sheer awe. I get your point that the scale of MSEP fits in my beloved intimately sized DL. But on the flip side the “in your face”-ness of PtN is just plain awesome. I mean seriously, how cool is it to see them drive a sparkly Mack truck down Main Street?
At the end of the day as long as they leave some of the nostalgia, I’ll take the modernization. I just remind myself “Disneyland is not a museum”