Back in the 1980s the nighttime electrical parade at both Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland was the Main Street Electrical Parade. But as the 1990s approached, The Walt Disney Company was gearing up for two major events. The first being the opening of Disneyland Paris which would open in the spring of 1992, and the second was the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney World on Oct 1, 1991.
This presented the company with a need, and an opportunity. The new park in France would need a nighttime parade, and the Magic Kingdom needed newness and excitement to mark its anniversary. Disney decided to pack up the Main Street Electrical Parade from Walt Disney World and ship it off to its newly opening park in Paris, and reinvent the nighttime parade concept with something totally new for Walt Disney World.
Originally titled ElectroMagic during its concept phase, it was being worked on by Don Dorsey who was the music designer for the Main Street Electrical Parade (Dorsey is also notable for his work on IllumiNations at Epcot and SoundSational at Disneyland). However, Dorsey’s suggestion to use a slower version of the Main Street Electrical Parade’s Baroque Hoedown theme was nixed by senior Disney management so Steve Skorija took over and scored the new parade while John Debney wrote the parade’s theme – “On This Magic Night.”
John Debney is also noteworthy for his work on movie soundtracks like Iron Man 2, the theme to the 90s TV series SeaQuest DSV, as well as the beginning fanfare to Epcot’s IllumiNations 25 and the soundtrack to the Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris. Debney is also the son of Disney Studios producer Louis Debney who worked on Disney projects like Zorro and The Mickey Mouse Club.
The music for SpectroMagic is notable for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is written in 6/8 time signature that waltzes which is highly unusual for a parade soundtrack. Most music for parades is written in even measures that march in times of 2/4 or 4/4. SpectroMagic also differed from its predecessor in that it was fully orchestrated.
SpectroMagic debuted on the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney World on Oct 1, 1991 and was immediately popular with audiences. SpectroMagic not only created a mark on our memories, but equally had a physical impact on the park itself.
Due to the anticipated popularity of the parade as well as the increased traffic through Frontierland with the soon-to-be opening Splash Mountain, Disney added a separate wooden walkway parallel to the main path through Frontierland from Liberty Square to Splash Mountain in an effort to increase traffic flow during the parade.
SpectroMagic employed several different lighting technologies, some of which had never been seen in commercial applications prior to implementation in the parade. The parade employed Electro-Illuminescents, Quantex (a US military developed lighting technology from fighter pilot cockpits), holographic prismatic film, fiber optics, and light spreading thermoplastics.
Powered by 948 batteries and connected with over 100 miles of fiber optic cable, the parade required 118 cast members to put on the show each evening. Over 600 “pucks” were originally embedded in Main Street USA and the rest of the parade route so the parade units would know where they were and stay correctly timed to the music. These pucks were replaced in 2006 with DTMF signals that were bounced off an antenna on Cinderella’s Castle to synchronize the music with the parade units.
The parades first run ended on May 22, 1999 when the Main Street Electrical Parade returned to the Magic Kingdom as part of the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration and then returned again on March 26, 2001 for a second run that completed on June 5, 2010 when it again went on hiatus for a return of the Main Street Electrical Parade.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Disney confirmed that SpectroMagic had officially and permanently been retired.
The last remaining elements of the parade were cut up and sold to the public embedded into a limited edition pin series that was sold in the parks until the end of 2015.
SpectroMagic’s soundtrack was released on its own self-titled CD and was available in the Parks throughout its run.