Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure
Paint the Night parade is a new nighttime parade now running nightly in Disney California Adventure. As part of DCA’s new ‘Pixar-push’ the parade has been relocated from Disneyland, where it was temporarily replaced by Main Street Electrical Parade.
Due to its on-again, off-again status for nearly two years, the biggest question with regard to Paint the Night is whether it’s back for good? While it was initially announced as a special return for Pixar Fest, there is no end date to Paint the Night’s run. It will be at Disney California Adventure at least through 2019, and more likely through 2020 and beyond.
This is great news, as Disney California Adventure has a longer parade route than Disneyland, and draws lower crowds. While Paint the Night is still immensely popular, it’s not nearly as difficult to see as it was when the parade was at Disneyland. This doesn’t mean you can stroll up and grab a spot at the last minute, but you also don’t need to camp out ~2 hours in advance.
The other big news is that there’s a new float! Well…sort of. There is a new Incredibles float (pictured above) but it replaces the Frozen float that used to be in the parade. Unfortunately, there were some ‘hurdles’ to moving the parade to DCA, and modifications had to be made to the parade to enable it to perform in DCA due to the Red Car Trolley cables. The Frozen float was simply too tall.
With that said, here’s our Paint the Night parade review, which also includes some basic info about the parade, and photos of the floats…
In addition to Disney California Adventure’s version of Paint the Night parade, it can also be seen at Hong Kong Disneyland. Several of the photos in this post are of the HKDL version of Paint the Night.
In this post, we’ll offer info about Paint the Night, our review of this nighttime parade, and our perspective on where it ranks as compared to other Disney night parades. For starters, what is Paint the Night?
Think of it as Main Street Electrical Parade for the new generation, in that the core concept of the light parade is the same, but the execution has been technically modernized, as has the soundtrack and the Disney characters represented.
Paint the Night parade has seven units: Tinker Bell Opening Unit, Monsters Inc. Unit, Cars Unit, The Little Mermaid Unit, Belle Candlelight Unit, Toy Story Unit, Mickey & Friends Finale Unit and features Owl City’s “When Can I See You Again?” as its theme song.
Other than that, I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of basic facts that you could read about on its Wikipedia page. If you want to know that stuff, click those links. Instead, I thought I’d share my thoughts on this parade…
First, the good. The good is that this is another technical innovation on the light parade front, and more nighttime parades can only be a good thing. I’m a huge fan of these parades, with SpectroMagic and Dreamlights being my two favorite parades ever.
Several of the floats here are really ambitious, showcasing advanced technologies that are really impressive. In fact, just about every float does something that hasn’t been done in a nighttime parade before (at least to my knowledge), so the parade really pushes the envelope in that regard.
I was especially captivated by the Mickey Mouse float, which had this twisty-thingy (that’s the technical name) that sort of was like an infinite loop. It was absolutely mesmerizing. (Watch the parade on YouTube if my excellent explanation left you saying “huh?”)
Technical ambition is nothing if it’s not on a float that is well-designed, and most of these floats are exceptionally well done. Although I would say that some are a little too flashy and cool, it’s undeniable that a lot of effort went into designing them.
My favorite parade unit, by a country mile, is the Belle Candlelight Unit, which looks exactly how it sounds. It’s incredibly elegant, and in addition to Belle and tons of candles around here, there are a lot of great flourishes and performers.
Speaking of the performers, costuming is also very solid. The dancers between floats almost all have really clever and well-done costumes, from the fiber-optic stringy-arm performers before Tinker Bell to the motor-men to the candle-head ballroom dancers. These are not simply performers strapped with battery packs and haphazardly covered with lights. Serious thought must have gone into the costuming.
Then there’s the bad. The worst aspect of the parade for me is the interactivity. This parade features “Made with Magic” technology (think Glow with the Show, but with a different name and more interactivity), which is a way for guests to purchase and use paintbrushes to change the color of performers and floats in the parade.
It’s a really cool idea in theory, but the execution is lackluster. Much like Glow with the Show, this effect only works if a critical mass is reached. Intuitively, it would seem like the less people using the paintbrushes, the better, as each guest would have more of a chance to change colors.
That might be true to an extent, but there’s a balance. If you have too many people, each guest has less of a chance at interactivity. If you have too few people using the paintbrushes, the light-up performers just sound of wander about, not having much to do. This problem is exacerbated by the show stops that are built into the parade for interactivity (Hong Kong only). We were at HKDL for the opening night of the parade, and Sarah and one child were the only guests with the paintbrushes that I could see in our area.
This meant that every performer who could light up came to see us, but while these performers were interacting with us, the rest just sort of stood around. Granted, it was cool to have so much attention from the performers, only if you’re one of the few people in the audience with the paintbrushes.
I alluded to it above, but the parade stops are another problem with Paint the Night. As a general rule, I hate show stops in parades. Unless there is a really good reason to have one, I prefer they not occur. I understand making the parades interactive for kids (and stretching parade duration) and all that jazz, but in terms of flow and pacing, I have yet to see one that I thought “worked.” The show stops in Paint the Night don’t even come close to working.
Unless you are near someone with a paintbrush, the show stop simply seems like the parade has ‘broken down.’ Every float just sort of stops, nothing happens, and then it starts again. For what is otherwise a fairly high energy parade, this just seems really out of place. Even if half of the crowd had the paintbrushes and the interactivity were great, I think it would still feel pretty forced. Parades like this already have enough of a problem with flow and transitions by their very nature, and the show stops don’t help.
My next criticisms are possibly things that are more personal to me, and may not exactly be objective. Fair warning: I’m going to sound like the old fart who wants things like they were “back in my day!” The overall feel I got from the parade was that it was trying too hard to be cool.
The general style just seemed hip and flashy, almost like the parade version of a dance party. I think there’s a fine line between high energy and rambunctious, and I prefer my high energy parades to be grounded in a classic, timeless core.
I’m also not wild about the music. It is very contemporary, with Owl City’s “When Can I See You Again?” being the theme song. I like this song, but I question whether it’s right for a parade that will probably have a long run.
My preference would have been for a theme song that is timeless, with the contemporary stuff incorporated into the parade for specific units. I completely get that Disney wants to go for a younger audience here and the synthesizer beats of Baroque Hoedown don’t accomplish that, but shouldn’t the lesson to be learned from the use of those synthesizer tracks that “contemporary” music is fleeting?
If anything, Disney got lucky with Baroque Hoedown in that it has somehow become iconic with Disney fans, despite sounding like it came from a time capsule. The difference between Baroque Hoedown and Owl City is that the latter is a Top 40 hit that is recognizably from a certain era. Imagine if, in 1972, Disney opted to use the hit song “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues as the theme song for Main Street Electrical Parade.
Wouldn’t that be odd if it were still running today…or even 10 years later? (Scratch that, it would be awesome beyond belief. “Nights in White Satin” is probably a poor example anyway in that it’s now a classic, whereas I can’t recall the last time I heard “When Can I See You Again?” on the radio.) So, while I think the soundtrack is catchy and fun, it just doesn’t quite feel right, and I prefer parades to go for something more timeless.
I’m also not wild about the character selection. Besides Tinker Bell–who is basically a new character given the way she has been repackaged in the new stories–and the Fab Five, there are no characters that pre-date 1989’s The Little Mermaid.
In fact, Pixar has more representation that Walt Disney Animation Studios. I don’t dislike Pixar–far from it–but I certainly think that more balance in the character choices would be nice. While I think it’s great that Disney has chosen to represent newer films here, I think going exclusively for newer films is a mistake. I don’t even take specific issue with the Cars unit. I’m not a fan of the movie, but I have to admit that the unit here is pretty cool.
I think this could fairly easily be remedied by just one more unit, maybe before or after the stunning Beauty and the Beast candlelight unit. Like I said above, this unit is far and away the highlight of the parade for me, and another unit in this classic style, featuring some classic characters (maybe from Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty?) would go along way to give the parade balance, and make it feel less like a random assortment of “Disney Things That Are Totally Rad.”
Like I said, I’m like an old fart. I know exactly how the last several paragraphs read. Just imagine me shaking my fist at the floats as they pass, yelling at those young whippersnappers to turn down their music and get off my lawn Main Street! 😉 In thinking about the parade with a bit more deference, I realize that many of the things I’m criticizing are things young kids will absolutely love. The thing is, kids love anything with bright lights and Disney characters, so getting them to “absolutely love” a Disney nighttime parade is no difficult task. It would have been nice for Disney to blend some timeless elements with the rad ones to throw a bone to old farts like me, too.
UPDATE: Many tweaks have been made to improve the Disney California Adventure version of Paint the Night parade based on lessons learned in Hong Kong. Gone are the show stops, the lack of which dramatically improves the flow of the parade. Also gone is the interactivity, which is another instance of addition by subtraction.
Added is a stunning Frozen float and a handful of entertainers. It may not seem like much, but these enhancements to the Disney California Adventure version of Paint the Night make a big difference. At their core, the two parades are very much the same, but the incarnation running now in Disney California Adventure is decidedly more enjoyable to watch.
I’ve already watched the parade a dozen-plus times at Disneyland Resort, and I will admit that it has grown on me with each viewing. I’m still not wild about the fact that it doesn’t strike a better balance between old and new, but at the end of the day quality matters more than whether it comports with how Disneyland is marketed.
I can understand why so many people love this parade: the music is catchy, the floats are impressive, and there’s a palpable, downright fun energy to it. It’s the kind of parade that hypes you up and puts a smile on your face. While I could quibble over some of the choices in execution, I cannot discount the fact that it’s a ton of fun, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what Disneyland is all about?
Overall, Paint the Night is still a really solid parade and moving it to Disney California Adventure was a solid move. I’ve rambled on with some personal grievances about it, and while I do view these as valid criticism of the parade, I still really enjoyed it. While it’s not the parade that I would create if I were tasked with designing parades, I understand that not everything in the Disney parks is squarely aimed at me, and I do appreciate the parade’s many bright spots. At the end of the day, it doesn’t touch Dreamlights for me as Disney’s best nighttime parade, but it’s certainly a step up from the Main Street Electrical AARPade.
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
Does the Disney Paint the Night parade look appealing to you? Are you also an “old fart” when it comes to Disney offerings, or do you prefer more modern stuff? Would you like to see this parade make its way to Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Share any thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!
Trying to plan a 2020 trip to include this Parade. Any thoughts? We were taking your advice for end of jan early feb but seems like that is risky
I am an old fart for sure, but my love of the Paint the Night Parade is uncontainable. The music is actually my ring tone because it brings a smile to my face each and every time I hear it. Watching the Electric Light Parade over the last year has left me craving the music and laughter that the Paint the Night Parade brings. People gather for hours just to see this parade. Yes, I know, people gather for hours to see most of the entertainment, but the crowd vibe is different. The minute the lights dim you can hear the squeal of the crowd. If you don’t believe me watch the Youtube versions of both parades. The excitement is REAL. People of all ages are dancing, clapping, and going crazy over the characters. I personally can’t wait for it to be back!!
I saw this several times during the 60th celebration and loved it (and it was cold in November, colder than I’ve been on a ski slope). I can’t wait for it to reappear. I’m a Disney kid at heart, been going since I was 6 and that’s a LONG time. I loved the music. It made me happy…to me that’s Disney.
Any thoughts when it’s going to return either to DL or California Adventure? I know you mentioned some possibilities, but I’d like to schedule a trip just to see it.
At least DL has a parade at night…since WDW sent theirs to DL it’s been kind of “empty” on Main Street…I miss a nighttime parade.
Sigh. I’m happy for y’all in DL – Paint the Night looks amazing, but I still can’t believe WDW no longer has a night parade. Reading this post & seeing all of Tom’s great pics just makes me miss it more, kinda rubs salt in the wound:(
I miss the Electrical parade a WDW, but gosh I would love for this to come in its place! Bring it to Disney World!
Never being to disneyland before until just recently, I do indeed have my own personal differences when it comes to disney’s choice in paint the night parade. I loved their use of the newer movies, mostly because it feels like they’re looking back at some really great accomplishments during the past few years. I do like the little mermaid and the candle units but in my opinion the candle unit seemed VERY stiff. not only cant belle move very much other than to like bow and wave to the crowd but the candle performers looked really stiff in their costumes. (one of the girls flames wasn’t working either) The little mermaid unit was really fun. they had a parade stop and (because for some reason i was in the middle of a HOLE in the crowd) pointed me out and called me peter pan (i was wearing the peter pan cap i had bought that day) and asked me if i was being nice to the mermaids today. of course being an introvert and highly shy my only response was a huge grin and two thumbs up before hiding my face into my moms shoulder. I actually really liked the Parade stop because the characters stopped to talk to the crowd and make it cute and interactive. but I can see why it could be a huge issue to the people who don’t get noticed. heck i think i was the main focus on at least 3 characters in the parade (including peter pan himself) because I was pretty much in an empty spot in the crowd wearing a peter pan cap. Whilst everyone else was pretty much too tired to be dancing and the children were mostly trying to sleep. I personally enjoyed the owlcity song as i listened to a lot of owl city in middleschool and had recently heard the theme before. I can see the issues in it but overall it seemed pretty upbeat and joyful and i had a great time being there. Could just be a first timers view on things, but ive enjoyed disney all of my life. and every single float was so beautiful and the parade was so fun i couldnt help but enjoy the entire thing.
First their was “Light Tragic” now we have “Paint the Fright”!
Being a Disney traditionalist (or old fart as you might call me) I agree with some of your comments, especially regarding older Disney characters that were not featured in the parade. In the Disneyland version, at least Cinderella is represented in the Princess unit, but there’s no Sleeping Beauty or worse, Snow White!
However, you can’t ignore the fact that Disney went with its’ big heavy hitters, like Frozen, Pixar, Little Mermaid and Tinkerbell.
But I do understand why. Kids today see Frozen, Tinkerbell and Pixars hits as the exciting stuff! To cram every Classic Disney Film into the parade would be great in theory but that would make the parade incredibly long! Besides, those other characters are well represented in other areas of the park. But here’s where I disagree and it’s about the music. I believe the song drives the parade into the 21st century. I’m actually off put by The Original Baroque Hoedown being forced into the show; let it stand on it’s own merits! Who thought that the Baroque Hoedown, which was a song created in the 60’s would last as long as it did. It’s a product of the Original parade and I loved it as much as anyone out there. The revised version of it from a few years back just wasn’t better than the original. The original soundtrack belongs with the original parade. But good things don’t always last forever. The nature of the original parade was cutting edge at the time, but lets face it…people were catching up to the technology by putting Christmas displays on their homes synched to a musical soundtrack!
This is a brand spankin’ new parade for an up to date Disney. I’m excited about it and judging by the response, so are a whole lot of others too!
thanks for this post. I felt silly that I had never heard of it, with the DL announcements tonight.
I have been going to Disneyland since Day 1, I remmeber seeing the final performances of the Main Street electrical parade at disneyland before it was ended. MSEP has and always will be my favorite parade because it was uniquely Disney, never to be found anywhere else. I’ve seen Spectro Magic, Dreamlights and of course the “Light Tragic” incident that plagued disneyland after MSEP. When I saw Paint the Night on YouTube I was like “WOW”. I was really blown away by the floats and character costumes and the overall technology. At first the music did seem very hyped but as the parade continued I couldn’t imagine a softer more classic soundtrack. The floats are SO hyped up in design, movement and color changing lights that the music sort of compliments them. Initially I thought that more classic disney would be awesome, but I found myself unable to think of many classical characters that could be modernized into the parade in a seem less way. Belle and Ariel were very good nods to Walt Disney animation but they are the more recent animated classics. As a regular visitor to Disneyland (Annual Passholder) I’d love to see this kind of energy transform Main Street USA for 20 minutes after sundown. While I feel it’s energy and vibrancy is more suitable for DCA, Disneyland needs a Kick-a$$ light parade for the new generation and with this parade I feel they have a winner. I’ve also heard they’re adding two more units to the parade at Disneyland with one of them being a Jungle themed unit (I can see the color changing monkeys and blooming flowers in my head already). As for the music with Baroque Hoedown intermixed throughout, I love it. They just need to rethink the show stops or get rid of them altogether. Cant wait to see it in person!
It sounds like the new floats coming to the Disneyland version will be “classic” floats, and the parade will eliminate the show stops, so right away it seems like the Disneyland version will be a big improvement. I can’t wait to see it!
Thanks for this review. Having taken a weekend trip to HK to see HK Disneyland, I thought I’d share my thoughts!
First, I didn’t know this song and decided not to listen to it before going. Once the parade started, it sounded just like a modern Disney parade score. By which I mean – quite often when a commercial song is included, it sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s not the case here (unless you know the song, perhaps!). Perhaps Disney is banking on its obscurity? If so, then it’ll arguably improve with time as it becomes more ingrained with Disney and memories of the song origins fade.
As for “nods” to classics, I spotted a few (even Baroque Hoedown at least a couple of times in the parade!). I get the impression you’d like something more than a nod (and admittedly most of the references are musical)… But assuming a fixed budget without room for adding and maintaining more amazing floats, what would you suggest should have been cut to include a classical reference? (OK, I think I know the answer there – that Monsters Inc doors-on-iphones float)…
But my point is that these are all huge hits for Disney/Pixar. Pixar is only overrepresented if you start from the notion that allowing Pixar in Disney parks is a generous gesture in the first place. I’m all for preserving the historical legacy in Disney parks, but Hong Kong Disneyland has no real legacy (yet).
More importantly, I wonder if older references would have stylistically worked with the “digital” nature of the new parade. I think it could be argued that dropping these “classics” allowed IR to take the parade in a new direction where people expect more than “just” pretty lights. People on the internet are apt to criticise Disney when they don’t live up to the standards of Universal’s new headliners – and yet when they try to modernise, they are accused of abandoning their history. (Not necessarily by the same people, but it’s a contradiction they face). The irony is that Disney/Pixar arguably has a better colletion of modern intellectual property than Universal and its licensors, but it can’t fully exploit it because it’s tied to history.
I’m totally with you on Show Stops though. More than losing momentum, it’s also an issue because not all floats are created equal. If you’re next to the ‘sorcerer mickey’ float when it stops, you’ll probably have a more positive opinion than if you’re next to Donald Duck or one of the other spacer/filler acts.
I really liked this parade! I hadn’t seen a Disney parade in years, so I was going to be impressed by anything. But I saw Paint the Night Parade on November 1, and thought it was pretty fabulous. I do agree about the paintbrushes being not as great an idea as they sounded – there were quite a lot of children with them the night I saw it, and the performers still seemed to have very little to do.
Question, though, was that really Owl City as the theme song? I could have sworn it was a song in Cantonese, which I thought was pretty cool, because I remember thinking that if you are a little kid at that park who doesn’t speak English, you’d miss out on a lot. But I thought it was great that they wrote a pop song specifically for the parade.
Well, the song isn’t performed by Owl City in the parade, but it is the Owl City song ‘When Can I See You Again’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM1YMeDsc-M
First of all, your photos are spectacular, Tom! Seriously wow-worthy.
While I enjoyed watching the parade video and would absolutely love to see it in person, I agree with you on pretty much every point you made. Darn whippersnappers. The long stop during the Monsters Inc/U unit actually had me wondering what the heck was happening- I thought that the float had literally stalled out. Then I realized what was happening with the paintbrushes. While cool, I feel like I would probably be fairly irritated if I had to wait for 10 minutes for guests to play with lights.
The rest of the parade seemed to go by so quickly that I barely got a good view of the floats. As much as I love Pixar, this parade definitely needs more classic representation- especially if will be featured for the 60th anniversary. Disney definitely knows by now that their main park audience is not only children, there are a lot of life-long goobers like us.
Yeah, hopefully Disneyland will realize its audience is different than HKDL, and make changes as necessary. My concern is that it’s cheaper to do a direct clone, and they won’t want to spend more on totally new floats…
Interesting article Tom and thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I agree with you in relation to the parade stops. This is also a problem with Flight of Fantasy parade during the day too. It seems as if the parade has broken down.
I interpret the interactivity the same way as I do Glow with the Show – a needless commercial gimmick and dismiss it.
I am going to argue with your classical (not old fart!) approach regarding the characters, music and float choices. Hong Kong Disneyland has a vibrancy as it’s the new park on the block. Being in a very modern Asian city that has its eye on the future rather than the past as much, more modern character representation suits this place well. I do get tired of the constant appearances of Cinderella, Peter Pan, etc doing the same things time and again. This parade concept allows something entirely different to occur. Modern classics are, for the first time really, given highlighted attention. By using the modern characters there’s a refreshing nature to Paint the Night. Being like a bit of a disco the funkiness and ‘coolness’ of this parade features the best of technology that you can’t get anywhere else (well, certainly not with the Main St Electrical Parade zzz). I adore the energy of Paint the Night. It’s new, young, fresh and by using new characters can be creatively original. Hong Kong being a bit of a neon city anyway.. what else would you expect from Hong Kong Disneyland? Would I port this over to Disneyland? No. It works for Hong Kong’s audience who may have less romantic associations with the classic Disney characters.
You make an excellent point. It is completely unfair for me to judge a parade in HKDL by my standards as a US guest, when US guests most certainly are not the target demographic.
It would have been one thing if my complaints were from an objective perspective, but I’ve admitted that they are based on my personal tastes. By contrast, I think ‘One Man’s Dream II’ in Tokyo Disneyland is a bad show as it caters to local guests, but I think it’s *objectively* bad. As in, it panders to the character infatuation and coasts on that instead of having real merit. Paint the Night isn’t objectively bad, most of my criticism relates to things I’d like to see…from my perspective.
That might not make sense to anyone else…but it does to me! 😉
Great review, and I love hearing your opinion. Ive been following your blog for a while now, and its always good to hear your thoughts as not all of us have the ability to travel to these “exotic” places. I pretty much agree with you on all points. The floats themselves are amazing, particiularly the Tinker Bell unit that isnt pictured here. Your point about the music is spot on. When I hear it all I can picture is Wreck-it-Ralph. (This song was in the credits of that film) WHile I love that movie, in my top 5, it is now linked to those characters, which are ironically not in this parade at all! I am a former Disneyland CM, and current WDW CM, and live for the nestalgia, specifically ELP, not a fan of Specto. I am planing on visiting my old home for the 60th, and really hope for a return of a nighttime parade for the “Land.” Lets hope Steve Davidson reads your blog and takes you up on some of your suggestion! Cheers!
I pretty much agree with every critique and bit of praise. My biggest issue are with character choice and music as well; I think as is it is better suited for DCA, but if they ever chose to ring this parade to DLR (as the rumors has suggested) they need to create an original soundtrack for the parade. Along with that, I think they should cut out a Pixar unit and add a couple of “classic” Disney units. I would personally love to see a Tangled themed float- either themed with Rapunzel’s glowing hair or the lantern scene. I think this specific grouping of characters is definitely aimed for the HKDL market (which isn’t a bad thing) but would need to be adjusted a little bit for the American parks.
Actually I thought that the music was the highlight of the parade… but then I hadn’t heard it before and assumed it was written specifically for the parade!
I so hope they bring this to Disneyland for the 60th anniversary!!! It looks so beautiful!!
Based on all of the rumors, it sounds like you will get your wish. Personally, I won’t believe it until the parade floats are actually AT Disneyland, but most ‘insiders’ are fairly convinced it’s coming.
Gorgeous photos, Tom. Loved getting a look at this parade, and these floats look amazing! I already feel the same way about the music selection, however, and I haven’t even heard it. Kids love Disney as is, and I don’t feel like they need to incorporate “hit” music. Will we be seeing a trip report from your epic October travels? Would love to read it!
Yeah, I don’t understand what demographic they’re courting with that music. Tweens? Kids that are ‘too cool’ for Disney? I’m not sure that music changes anything, and just gives the parade a much shorter shelf life.