Blending elements from "Drumline," "Stomp" and "Glee," the new music-centric "Mickey's Soundsational Parade" opening at Disneyland on Friday delivers on its fun and energetic party premise without feeling forced or contrived.
There are no show stops with false interactivity, no overtly clever design features that feel more manufactured than creative and no painful attempts to appear hip by playing on fleeting contemporary cliches.
Instead, "Soundsational" manages to be whimsical and imaginative, with moments that are at times quirky, weird and flat-out crazy. "Soundsational" is everything a Disney parade always sets out to be but rarely achieves -- an effortless and spontaneous street party that makes visitors smile and dance.
The idea for "Soundsational" started two years ago during the "blue sky" creative stage of development, said Steve Davison, vice president and director of parades and spectaculars atWalt Disney Imagineering, the company’s creative arm.
"I think I did six parade designs of different themes," Davison said during a backstage interview near the Disneyland parade-staging area. "At one point we were looking at doing a full 'Princess and the Frog' parade because the music was strong. I was sitting at my computer one day and I said, 'Why don’t we look at a music parade?'"
"Soundsational" combines musical styles -- Caribbean, Latin, Bollywood, jazz and gospel -- with arrangements by "Glee" vocal director Tim Davis to create a multi-layered soundtrack featuring a quicker tempo than most Disneyland parades.
The parade kicks off with six trick-stick drummers recruited from the "Drumline" touring show who set the pace and energy level for the upbeat procession that follows. Throughout the parade, a 2 1/2-minute soundtrack loop is supplemented by live music, including a seven-piece horn section and Mickey Mouse ably playing a full drum kit.
"It has a very youthful sound to it," Davison said. "It’s current, but its classic, which is tricky. I like doing old and new together."
The nine floats represent super-sized musical instruments with a pop-up book motif made to look like intricate paper cut designs. My favorite floats included the "Princess and the Frog" riverboat with flute-like smokestacks and the "Mary Poppins" carousel with spooling player piano reels.
The modular configuration of the parade will allow show producers to swap out elements when a new movie debuts, Davison said.
"Over time you’re going to see the parade morph and change," he said.
The parade's 92 performers, whittled down from the 1,000 who auditioned, have been rehearsing nightly the last month. "Soundsational" features two-dozen Disney characters, including two rarely seen in the Anaheim theme park, Jose the parrot and Panchito the rooster from the 1944 film "The Three Caballeros." Among my favorite characters: the "Mary Poppins" chimney sweeps that perform a percussive "Stomp"-inspired dance routine at the end of the parade.
The musical theme extends as well to the colorful costumes – from the piano keys on Minnie's skirt to the xylophone pinstripes on Goofy's pants. The parade’s most visually stunning troupe: the maraca-shaking piñata dancers wearing crepe paper-like dresses.
It's been a while since I’ve been excited about a parade at Disneyland, but I'd put "Soundsational" on my must-see list every time I visit the park.