Disneyland’s Magic Happens will turn Main Street U.S.A. into an attitude-filled sassy runway catwalk with fashion-forward dancers in avant-garde costumes striking vogue poses when the boldest parade to hit the Anaheim theme park in years returns from a pandemic pause.
The twice-daily Magic Happens parade officially returns on Friday, Feb. 24 after running for only a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered Disneyland in 2020 for more than a year.
Here’s our 2020 review of Magic Happens recast as a preview of what to expect when the fresh and unexpected parade returns to Disneyland unchanged from its original run.
Magic Happens includes parade floats featuring characters from “Moana,” “Coco,” “Frozen,” “Cinderella,” “Sword in the Stone,” “The Princess and the Frog” and “Sleeping Beauty” all led by Mickey Mouse.
The Magic Happens parade kicks off with a dance troupe known as Magic’s Entourage that looks like a cross between an unconventional challenge on “Project Runway” and a lip-sync battle on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Needless to say, that’s not something you see every day at Disneyland.
The edgy-by-Disney-standards fashion-forward look is by design. Disney teamed up on the parade with Emmy-nominated makeup artist David Petruschin, known by the stage name Raven on VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Magic Happens is a fresh and unexpected turn for Disneyland, which is known for playing it safe and falling back on tried-and-true formulas when it comes to in-park entertainment. Unfortunately, the Disney Parks Live Entertainment team doesn’t follow through on the bold stroke to the end — giving up on the inventive approach about two-thirds of the way through the parade.
Magic Happens parade show director Jordan Peterson and creative director David Duffy are to be applauded for taking a chance and breaking from the mold of past Disneyland parades. But they didn’t go far enough. The newness and freshness of Magic Happens comes to an abrupt halt when the wackiness of the first two acts of the parade gives way to staid tradition in the final act.
Magic Happens steps off with an electric start. The male dancers in Magic’s Entourage sport aqua mohawk pompadours and iridescent irregular-cut tux jackets. The strike-a-pose vogue female dancers wear cutting-edge looks ripped from the runways of New York, London, Paris and Milan.
It’s going to take some time for visitors to get used to seeing Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy in iridescent blue and purple mod mode fashions. In fact, at first glance they look ridiculously off-the-wall goofy. But, in time, the looks are sure to grow on fans more accustomed to seeing the Fab Five in holiday and seasonal attire.
Mickey Mouse follows the opening dancers on an impressive float with a bronze barb wire-like halo rotating around the top of a towering blue and purple sorcerer’s hat.
A troupe of ocean dancers accompanying the Moana unit look like a cross between fire walkers and belly dancers as they spin and wave silk strips of fabric. The undulating veil pois add a dose of kinetic energy to the procession.
The Moana float is less impressive than its potential in part because of the bright midday sun that diluted the impact of the curving LED screen that forms a crashing wave. The animation-filled LED wave will look better during evening shows.
The Kakamora dancers trailing the Moana float were a big hit with fans lining the parade route during the pre-pandemic run. Little kids laughed as a remote-controlled robot version of Moana’s rooster Hei Hei caromed along Main Street U.S.A.
The female dancers accompanying the floral-themed Coco float are the best of an impressive crew of parade performers. The dancers’ marigold petal-inspired skirts detach to become flag-like capes they twirl as they move along the parade route.
The Coco float features a fun pop-up gag with Dante the dog dancing along a marigold bridge. It would be easy to miss the dozen skeleton chihuahuas yapping on the back of the Coco float. As with any great parade, Magic Happens will take multiple viewings to catch all that it has to offer.
The day-glo Coco dancers dressed as alebrijes spirit guides exemplify the wackadoodle vibe of the boisterous and free-spirited parade. It takes five puppeteers to operate the SUV-sized version of the winged pepita spirit animal from the “Coco” movie.
The beautiful ballet-like pas de deux of the tree dancers in muted gray tones dance in the sea of color and cacophony surrounding them. The dancers accompanying the Frozen float serve as a peaceful palate-cleanser in between acts.
The great disconnect in the Magic Happens parade occurs when a bunch of Disney characters get tossed in the middle of the procession for no apparent reason other than to increase the character count. Magic Happens takes a quick turn for the worse when Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Aladdin, Genie, Pinocchio and a few other Disney characters show up. The classic Disney characters aren’t dressed in the crazy avant-garde costumes we see earlier on Mickey, et al. It’s just a casting call of fan favorites in the parade for the photo op.
Suddenly the exuberant wackiness of Magic Happens grinds to halt and you find yourself watching just another Disneyland parade. Cue the princesses and the fairy godmothers. It’s time to wrap this thing up.
If Magic Happens fails anywhere, it’s when the parade attempts to provide something for everybody during the finale rather than remain true to its unconventional self.
The extended grand finale that takes up the last third of the parade feels like a jukebox roundup of Disney’s greatest hits. A surprise glimpse of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone with Merlin at his side is squeezed in between a parade of familiar princesses. The abundance of verve in the first two acts is traded for a lack of nerve in the third act.
Fortunately, Magic Happens ends with the same energy and exuberance as it started. The twin performers carrying the finale banner strut with the same sass and attitude as the opening dance troupe.
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