I was brought up in a family that loved music, dancing and theater, and from a young age was exposed to all of it. I was also fortunate enough to have our family summer excursion be a day at Disneyland since I was old enough to be pushed around in a stroller. So you put the two together and you get a major Mousertainment fan – a fan of all things Disney, but especially anything involving music and dance.
While an annual visit was all that we managed when I was younger, a few years ago I started going to the park a little more regularly with friends and family. While hitting up my favorite attractions was always fun, it wouldn’t have been enough to keep me going that often. No, what started the recent re-energizing of my love for the parks and for park entertainment specifically was a late night dance party called ElecTRONica. But it really started longer ago than that…
Back in the day, although I still recall the spectacle of amazing parades from the Main Street Electrical Parade to The Lion King Celebration, along with always loving any attraction like America Sings or Country Bear Jamboree that involved music and singing, some of my fondest memories from the park were from hours spent dancing and watching dancers in a far corner of Fantasyland in an area called Videopolis.
While I also have distinct memories of dancing to bands and singers at the Tomorrowland Terrace stage, I remember going to Videopolis and never wanting to leave. I just wanted to stay and dance and dance to the pop music of the day. But the rest of my family oddly wanted to do other things during a day at Disneyland and I never quite felt satiated. All I knew was, it felt like a wonderful, safe place for a youngster to go and dance.
The years passed and Videopolis closed. The area became home to a theater that for a time showed a Pocahontas stage show that I loved. Then later it became a home for princess meet and greets that held no interest for me, so I left the area behind. Happily it has once again returned to being a theater presenting the charming “Mickey and the Magical Map” show – which even includes a singing Pocahontas! So although I can’t go and dance there anymore, I still can go and watch some terrific performances on that stage.
As I grew older, I still loved to go dancing but I was never one for a bar or club scene and eventually just let that kind of joyous expression fade away as I didn’t have a place to share it. Until one night a few years back when I was walking through a park I wasn’t too attached to, or frankly, even very interested in: Disney’s California Adventure as it was known at the time – pre-2012 refurbishment and re-naming.
The company was trying to promote the decades-later sequel to its 1980’s sci-fi film TRON, called TRON: Legacy. I was excited for the film as I was a fan of the first (along with being a musical theater geek, I’m also a sci-fi geek. So much fandom, so little time…). So when it was announced that the company’s first attempt at launching a nighttime rave-like party, called “GlowFest” was glowing away forever and would be replaced by a TRON-themed party, I was intrigued.
I hadn’t had any interest in GlowFest since I don’t drink and that seemed to be the only purpose of the event. But ElecTRONica promised to be something different as I would soon discover. DJs, dancers, a street party filled with TRON imagery projected on the buildings around us, a performer with lights and lasers named LaserMan and best of all, Flynn’s Arcade – an unbelievably faithful recreation of the kind of mall video game arcade I’d spent hours in as a kid including an accompanying 80’s music soundtrack – ElecTRONica was something I could fall for. And I did.
Each night would open with a performance by dancers on a stage and a host based on the owner of the movie’s End of Line Club inviting you to “Enter the Grid”. The high energy performance would start with TRON’s classic Journey song “Separate Ways” and then the stage would flip from 80’s style to the TRON: Legacy look with the performers’ costumes reflecting the change. It was a great show and that live performance was always my favorite part of the night. After that I would usually spend some time watching the go-go dancers (male and female) dancing to the beats of the DJs and occasionally join in the special choreographed dance they taught to the crowd. (“One more time…”) Though the music was not my style – I prefer more radio-friendly pop to EDM – I loved watching the dancers. After a while though, I would inevitably wind up in Flynn’s Arcade, grooving to the strains of 80’s music as I tried to recover my Pole Position and Dig Dug mojo.
I probably went to ElecTRONica somewhere around 10 times or so over the course of its year and a half existence. The party lasted longer than the popularity of the movie – understandable, as the movie was visually stunning and had one of the best soundtracks heard in decades created by the Euro duo Daft Punk, but the story was lacking. Still I love to pull out my blu-ray periodically – hmm, maybe it’s time to do that again soon…
ElecTRONica, which built on its predecessor by adding a recognizable Disney theme and character/performers to just a loud place to drink at night in the park, helped create a fandom and a formula that would reach its apex with the nighttime event that would replace it: the Mad T Party.
But first the loyal and dedicated ElecTRONica fans would have to say goodbye to a party they loved. Although I’d only been a relatively few times over its lifespan, ElecTRONica was the first thing to remind me of Videopolis since I’d lost that beloved location in Disneyland so many years before. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the music the DJs played there, ElecTRONica again provided a safe place to go dance on Disney property. Plus there was Flynn’s Arcade – a time portal to my childhood. I was so sad to see it go, even knowing that the next party that was on its way would be based on my favorite theme of all: Alice in Wonderland.
I am a lifelong Wonderland fan and collector – show me something with Alice or the Cheshire Cat on it and I’ll likely want it – or already own it! I had a love/hate relationship with the Tim Burton movie – loved the style, direction, soundtrack and cast of characters – hated the awful script filled with pretentious stilted dialogue that reflected none of the true whimsy and charm of Wonderland and which the cast couldn’t overcome despite their best efforts. Still I saw the movie more times on the big screen than any film I’d seen in many years simply because it was Alice. Of a sort. And I really did love the look of it. (Or perhaps it was just to repeatedly watch Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter recite a variant of the poem “Jabberwocky” in a Scottish brogue. Might have been a factor too.) So if I wasn’t still in mourning for the almost-perfect ElecTRONica, I might have been more excited for this Mad T Party.
Some of the concept art that was previewed looked interesting. Some, not so much. There would be a band along with a DJ this time – ooh, potential for more than just EDM music! But the awesome LaserMan was being replaced by a thing in a tube rolling around on the floor called the Who R U? And there were stilt-walking flamingo performers? And the brilliant Flynn’s Arcade which frequently had lines of people waiting to play the classic video games and was always busy would be replaced by a “Mad Arcade” with Wonderland-themed basketball throws and skee-ball? Seriously? This was not sounding promising.
But a few months later I found myself walking through the soft-opened Mad T Party area as the band played. I stop and I watched… and I couldn’t stand it.
The Mad T Party band was fronted by a Mad Hatter that was way too over the top perky. His co-lead singer Alice looked way too sexy for Disney entertainment and seemed to overshadow her fellow singer. They were trying so hard to make this look cool, I thought, when the last thing Disney should try for is “cool”. The other band members each doing their own thing made the whole show seem muddled and unformed.
In the midst of my disappointment, all I could think of was how much I missed Flynn’s Arcade, the strains of Journey’s “Separate Ways” and the ElecTRONica show – although I was pretty sure I recognized at least one or two of the Mad T Party themed “Hottest Deck in Town” dancers as having been dancers at ElecTRONica. I walked in and out of the Mad Arcade quickly, completely unimpressed by the offerings there too.
They took away ElecTRONica for this? I lamented. I didn’t see any point in staying, or in fact, returning. Until a few weeks later, when I found myself walking through the area again. And this time, it changed my life…