Jordan Peterson is a show director for “Magic Happens,” the first new daytime parade at Disneyland in nearly a decade, fusing both classic and modern films into one timeless theme—magical moments. The parade, which debuted Feb. 28, became an instant hit among park guests for its cultural representation, resonating soundtrack, and stunning production, from the soaring, technically impressive floats to the bold costumes.
For Peterson, a longtime Disney fan who got his start as a parade performer, “Magic Happens” is a full-circle moment and his way of paying it forward. “(Growing up), I had an annual pass to (Walt Disney World) even though we lived in Texas. My mom always saved a seat for me on Main Street so I can ride rides and still catch the parade. We never missed a single piece of live entertainment. To see the parade come to life on the street in front of you as a kid? I know what that’s like because that was me. I was that kid. How do you 30 years later look back and thank the people that came before you? I think the best way to do that is to inspire a whole new generation.”
From the beginning, Peterson and his team knew they wanted to collaborate with prominent, award-winning artists including “RuPaul’s Drag Race” stars Todrick Hall and David Petruschin (a.k.a. drag queen Raven) and Tessandra Chavez. Hall co-wrote two original songs for the parade “Magic Happens” and the grand finale song, while Petruschin and Chavez consulted on the choreography and makeup respectively. “Setting the musical tone for the parade was the most important aspect for us. We wanted to make sure the sound was fresh and contemporary, and something that doesn’t only belong on the streets of Disneyland. That’s a big task to accomplish, so when we sat down and thought about who we’d want to loop in, the first name that came to the table was Todrick Hall.”
Making sure to include the stories of “Moana” and “Coco” in the parade was more than just wanting to include recent IP in the line-up. “We wanted to make sure that everyone could see themselves reflected in the parade. I’ve seen beautiful posts online from people watching the Moana sections saying ‘That is my culture and I’ve never gotten the chance to see that in a Disneyland parade before so to see these performers out there representing the art and the beauty and the storytelling that is mine has been cathartic.'”
“I get to go out now and if I’m having a bad day, I get to grab an ice cream on Main Street, plop down on the sidewalk, and watch this parade, and watch people watching the parade.”
With “Magic Happens,” Peterson leads a cast of 400 performers and a creative team; he also conceptualized the parade from the ground up. It’s one of his first projects as a show director at Disneyland, with other projects including “Oogie Boogie Bash” and the fireworks show for “Disneyland After Dark: 90s Nite.” He started his career with the Disney College Program in Orlando and his first full-time job was in park entertainment. He appeared in over 18 parades across the Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney resorts. “I was a stilt walker, a stunt performer, a parade dancer … I did Fantasmic. I was a puppeteer. (My first job at Disney World) gave me the opportunity to experience all the things Disney Live Entertainment had to offer, except singing. I can’t sing.”
Peterson met his wife, a then-fellow Fantasmic performer, at Tokyo Disney. They recently welcomed their daughter in January. “(‘Magic Happens’) is a lot of hard work. I haven’t seen my family much. I had my daughter on January 1st and went straight into overnight rehearsals right after that. Mom has been flying solo, but luckily she was a theme park performer back in the day. I owe who I am to Disney parks. From my wife, to my best friend, to now my daughter.”
Peterson tried his hand in casting and production, but his passion led him back to live theme park entertainment, specifically interactive shows. “(Having) the opportunity to have the story come to you is what makes (parades) so unique. You get to choose your backdrop, whether it be the castle, Main Street, or Small World. You get to gather your family, whether chosen or born into, and you get to relax while we bring the magic to you. You get to see these floats extend 30 feet into the air, like the spires of the castle in the finale. A parade is one of the best ways to explore the most familiar stories that you know inside and out in a totally unique, artistic way. For example, a wave carved out of Koa wood right in front of you while Moana rides a canoe. I don’t think anyone could have dreamed of seeing something like that. Only a parade can deliver that type of message.”
When asked whether or not the team is planning to release the much-anticipated soundtrack to the parade, Peterson simply responded, “Just as the fairy godmother says, even miracles take a little time.”
The parade launches twice daily at Disneyland park. You can purchase a dining package at Plaza Inn for reserved viewing. Don’t miss special parade-inspired treats and souvenirs such as the the royal cupcake and Dia de los Muertos guava hand pie at Jolly Holiday, and the gold and purple sorcerer Mickey ears.