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!

Your Thoughts?

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!

26 Responses to “Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure”
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