The Main Street Electrical Parade is without a doubt a classic staple of the Disney parks. Many fans from all walks of life have fond memories of seeing those iconic floats roll by in Disneyland, Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and… Manhattan? Thanks to Emre for the topic suggestion!
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That’s right. In the summer of 1997, for one special night, the Main Street Electrical Parade made its way down 42nd street in New York City. It was clear that the momentum that was the Disney Renaissance of the early 1990’s was running out of steam. So in 1997, with hopes of creating another box office hit, Disney doubled down on the marketing campaign for their next film, Hercules.
Disney ended up licensing Hercules to 85 companies, resulting in over 7,000 Hercules branded items to cross promote the film. However the real spectacle was in it’s New York City premier. Why New York? Well if Disney loved one thing back then, it was synergy, and it just so happened that beyond a new animated film, Disney was getting ready to promote their first steps into the world of Broadway. As a part of the 42nd Street revitalization effort, Disney had signed a 49 year lease on the New Amsterdam Theater and restored it, with a price tag of thirty-four million dollars. They had run a limited engagement of King David, but the real big premiere of the theater was going to be a stage adaptation of that earlier box office titan, The Lion King.
So in an effort to both promote Hercules as well as to raise awareness of the theater, it was chosen as the location for the film’s big opening. The real crowd magnet though would be The Main Street Electrical Hercules Parade.
The original Main Street Electrical Parade had just finished it’s 24 year run at Disneyland that previous fall. The floats were refurbished, with over 100,000 lights reportedly being replaced, and a new Hercules themed float was built and added to the front of the lineup. Disney claimed that the one night only event would mark a “last farewell” for the classic parade, and it was a farewell that would require months of planning and a whole lot of money.
Disney paid the city of New York a reported $500,000 to run the parade. Helping out, the city had potholes filled along the proposed route, which ran across 42nd street from 7th avenue to 5th avenue, before turning up 5th avenue and running to 66th street. That made for a parade route over four times the length of the original Disneyland parade! The city hired a pair of electricians who would turn off a total of 130 street lamps before the parade arrived to an area and then turned them back on as the parade left. Lastly, they’d end up assigning 2000 NYPD officers to the parade route for the event, which was about normal for a parade in the city. In order to provide the proper soundtrack for the parade, Disney had over 300 speakers installed along the route.
But that wasn’t the end of Disney’s planning. As early as that February, Disney began to reach out to over five thousand local businesses along the 1.6 mile path to ask them to temporarily turn off their lights for the festivities. Most of the businesses were on board with the idea and found it to be fun.
All in the all the parade was a hit, and Variety would later report that nearly one million people ended up attending the event. The whole thing was filmed by Disney and later added to a one hour television special called “Hercules Strikes Manhattan”. Unfortunately for as much as the parade was a hit, Hercules was not.