There are a few characters in this world more iconic than Pikachu from Pokemon. Ever since the franchise began, Pikachu has been on top of the world from plushest to clothing to ice cream. You simply can't escape this guy. But what's the true way to tell if your character is iconic, whether or not they make an appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Thanksgiving, a time for friends, family, and reminiscing on the time you saw Chicken Little as a celebratory Thanksgiving Day balloon. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is an American tradition dating all the way back to 1924. And one of the main selling points of the parade is that most of its balloons are made up of famous or recognizable characters.
These balloons are drawn millions upon millions of viewers every year, and they're really impressive. In the past, I took a look at the history of Sonic the Hedgehog appearances in the parade. While Sonic has been included numerous times, he has nothing on some of the other characters that have become true parade staples.
This year, we'll be taking a look at one of the most often reoccurring faces in the period history. Did you know that Pikachu has appeared in the parade every year for nearly two decades, ever since he was first introduced into the lineup in 2001? He's been in the parade.
Now, that's a testament to Pokemon's popularity. You don't see Jimmy Neutron appearing in the parade for 20 years. With that said, the Pikachu balloon you see today is not the same picture you saw in 2001. He's gone through many changes over those years and several balloons.
And that's what I'll be going over today. In this article, we'll be taking a look at the history of Peka, choose many appearances in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Let's begin.
Pikachu made his first appearance in the parade all the way back in 2001, which coincidentally was the fifth year anniversary of Pokemon and the 75th annual Macy's parade. However, this wasn't Pokemon's first appearance in the parade a year earlier in the 2000 parade, a Pokemon themed Volkswagen Beetle dubbed the Popemobile was present in the parade. This car would be reused and join the parade alongside the balloon in later years.
Looks like Macy's parade is ready in the universe of video games and kid shows Pokémon rules. This year's parade makes the big catch as Pikachu, the adorable flagship character of the more than 250 character Pokémon universe, becomes a first-time big balloon.
And Matt, furnished by the Pokemon company. What a shock to get used to the loyal companion and best friend of Pokemon trainer Ash through four TV seasons and three movies, Pikachu is always there to lend a helping hand when things get tough.
An interesting fact about this guy is that he's one of the shortest balloons in the parade's history. At only 30 feet tall, 54 handlers carried Pikachu throughout New York City and unlike Sonic, Pikachu, made it through his first year of the parade without any incidents.
The balloon is certainly a memorable design, if not a little uncharacteristic. I think it would have been a great touch for this balloon to have actual balloons attached to Pikachu, as it would have been, just like in the opening of Pokemon Yellow, although, yeah, this would have been unnecessary and would have made the balloon way more expensive.
It was designed to focus exclusively on Pikachu and it does that very well. While he already appeared as a balloon, Pikachu also appeared as a walk around mascot costume on the 75th parade superstar's float. This balloon would be featured in every parade until 2005 when it was retired of Team Rocket.
Those bumbling bad guys show up to cause trouble. Pikachu emits a high voltage thunder shot to send the pranksters flying here in New York. We call that a stun gun. That was going to say, I wish I could do that.
After being retired, the balloon wasn't immediately disposed of. Instead of flying, Pikachu would later be used as a test subject for the 2006 parade. This test flight occurred due to accidents that happened the year prior. However, he wouldn't appear in the actual parade that year.
On August 8th, 2006, a Pokemon 10th-anniversary party was held at Bryant Park in New York City. Dubbed the Party of the Decade Flying, Pikachu was on display at the event flying. Pikachu made one last appearance at the now-defunct exhibit Balloon Toplice at Universal Orlando Resort, where he was on display alongside characters such as Scooby-Doo and Garfield. This exhibit was made to give audiences an inside look at the production of Macy's parades. After the exhibit closed, flying Pikachu never publicly flew again.
It's unknown whether or not the balloon still exists, but even if he's no longer with us with an appearance like that, he's certainly unforgettable.
The morning of flying, Pikachu was short-lived, as, in the 2006 parade, a brand new Pikachu balloon was introduced to take his place when a character appears multiple times in the parade. It's not uncommon for them to get redesigned like this. This one, dubbed the Pikachu with a packable balloon, is a much more fitting design for the character and the Pokemon brand as a whole.
It depicts a Pikachu balloon chasing after a separate packable balloon. This new balloon was made not only to celebrate Pokemon its 10th anniversary but also due to its use changing appearance. The flying Pikachu was obviously inspired by the original appearance of Pikachu. But over the years, his luck would be refined. This new balloon reflected the current appearance of the character much better. Also, the packable balloon alone was 14 feet tall, so this was a pretty sizable balloon.
You fly through the air just behind a ball. Most Pokémon live inside one, but he prefers life on the outside, where he can lend a helping hand to his loyal companion. When the going gets tough, you know only one football on TV today. Peekapoos choose electrifying cruising the skies at twice the height of a Tyrannosaurus rex.
Along with its size, the balloon had a light-up feature, the second of its kind in the parade's history, giving Pikachu flushing cheeks. Obviously, Pikachu being in the parade is to promote the Pokemon franchise. And this was clearly shown in 2010 when the balloon was paired with floats that carried huge detailed statues of Graham Russia to promote Pokemon Black and White.
This year also marks Kikuchi's 10th annual appearance in the parade. This balloon was used by the parade from 2006 to 2013. Pikachu chased that Pokemon for seven Parade St. Unfortunately, unlike flying Pikachu, this balloon didn't have quite as perfect of a record. In 2012, for example, Pikachu ears were noticeably deflated and in 2013 the packable was fairly deflated as well.
These were likely nothing more than basic inflating errors as the balloons didn't fall down or anything. So thankfully, no horrible Pikachu accidents occurred while the balloon has been used and shown off at other events besides the parade. He was retired from the period after 2013, being replaced once again.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades are obviously often associated with the holiday season because of this, some balloons are designed with a holiday or Christmas theme in mind. One example is the second balloon of Greg Heffley from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
His first balloon design was of his standard luck. But in 2016, he was redesigned to not only match the updated style of the books but also to feature Greg in stylish winter gear. In 2014, a brand new holiday-themed Pikachu balloon was introduced. This one may not have the flashing cheeks of his packable brother, but he does have a cute little snowman Pikachu and a green scarf.
The most famous Pokemon character of all time. Ripshin has an all-new balloon ready for winter. Pikachu wears a red and green scarf and clutches its own snowman Pikachu years prior.
In 2008, the Pokemon Center released a holiday Pikachu plush with a very similar design to the snowman balloon. It seems this look was repurposed years later for this very jolly-looking Pikachu introduction to the world in 1996.
Pokemon has become one of the most successful entertainment brands ever this holiday season. Pokemon with the light players around the world, with the launch of Pokemon Omega Ruby and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire Video Games.
I guess this one is pretty evergreen. It should go without saying, but the Macy's parades are huge events with tons of promotion and merchandise backing them up, given his frequent appearances, Pikachu is seen on many of these. For example, the promotional artwork for the 2014 parade showcases that year's Pikachu balloon.
The absolute best promotional items released for the parades, though, are these annual musical snow globes that feature some of the year's hottest balloon characters. For example, Sonic is in the 2012 globe and Goku is in the 2019 globe.
Let me just say Pikachu was featured on some pretty stacked snow globes. The 2002 one had him flying alongside Jimmy Neutron and 2007 had Shrek. There's official merchandise that has Pikachu on it that also has Shrek flying. Pikachu is found in 2002 one and the redesigned 2006 balloon is in 2007 one. Even Pikachu spoke about sculpted here.
Unfortunately, the 2014 balloon has yet to be featured on any snow globe. The fact that Pikachu has been featured in two of these just goes to show how popular of a character he is. Every year, the parade showcases dozens of iconic characters, but only a select few get to be in these globes, let alone two of them. These have incredible detailing for something so small.
They're wonderful time capsules for the parades and make for great collectibles. Well, we all know about these parades, have you ever wondered about the actual production of these balloons? I mean, these things are huge and are usually really well designed.
How do they all come together?
Thankfully, Macy's has actually shared plenty of info regarding that and they've shared photos of their facilities and plenty of incentive for those interested in this. To simplify it, the balloons start as a simple sketch. And once the sketch is approved, a model was produced based on it.
This model is often a physical figure that his hand-sculpted and painted so the designers can see how the balloon looks at all angles, making sure everything checks out. These models are then referenced by the balloon pattern designers and then the funnel balloon is produced. When I first learned about these physical models, though, they really captured my interest.
Thankfully, plenty of photos of these models have been released publicly. Here's a look at the model flying Pikachu. Imagine seeing this in person, a model that would later become such a memorable addition to the parade. That's pretty incredible. Here's the one for the Pikachu with a packable balloon. And here's the holiday Pikachu balloon.
Unfortunately, these models have never been mass-produced for sale and are solely internal items made for the balloon designer's reference. Wouldn't it be amazing if they made a lot of figures based off of these? They could reproduce models for some of the most iconic balloons from over the years, maybe for the 100th anniversary or something?
If novelty ice cream bar with Gumby figures can be a thing, surely parade balloon figures have an audience to. And there you have it to look at pictures history in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I think it's pretty clear that Pikachu is one of the parade's most prolific characters at this point.
I mean, nearly 20 consecutive years in the parade. That's pretty impressive. Not that it's a surprise given Pokemon's popularity, but still, do any of you have many fond memories of seeing Pikachu in the parades over the years? I know I do. I think the most fascinating thing about these balloons is that they represent how much Pikachu and Pokemon have changed over the years.
On the surface level, the flying Pikachu is clearly based off of Kikuchi's original chubbier design. But besides that stuff like the holiday Pikachu balloon remind me of how commercial Pikachu is nowadays with endless merchandise, dressing him up in different outfits and whatnot.
These balloons are a really great look at the evolution of the character and Pokemon in general. Two decades, three balloons, and countless memories made. I have no doubt in my mind that we will, but I hope to see Pikachu in the parade for many years to come.