EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


November 21, 2012

Balloon tidbits before Macy's parade tune-in

NEW YORK — One man’s Elf on the Shelf is another’s Kermit the Frog, but at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, there is room for both.

The parade has to be a multigenerational crowd-pleaser for the more than 3 million people who typically attend the event and the TV audience of 50 million. There are 86 years of history to honor while making a pitch to first-time fans.

For many families, the parade characters are like the cousins that float around grandma’s house: They’re familiar, but not everyone at the table knows the backstory.

Giant balloons this year, for example, will add Papa Smurf and the Elf on a Shelf, while Buzz Lightyear, Sailor Mickey Mouse and the Pillsbury Doughboy keep their place in the lineup. A new version of Hello Kitty is also to be included.

“A great thing about the parade balloons is that they are the most recognizable characters in the world. Betty Boop or Felix the Cat — we might not all have been around when they were really popular, but we understand the pop culture significance of them,” parade spokesman Orlando Veras says.

Every time a character is added to the family of balloons — which quite literally overshadows everything else — they are guaranteed a run of three years.

“After that,” says Veras, “you never know. Sometimes the character owners have other things they want to do with the characters, sometimes we want to retire them, or sometimes we have to retire them because they can’t fly anymore.”

There have been six versions of Snoopy for a total of 36 parade appearances over the years, making him the most frequent participant. He’s sitting out this year so his buddy Charlie Brown can have another turn.

The Muppet Kermit is the longest balloon at 78 feet, and Paul Frank’s Julius sock money has the widest smile, measuring 19 feet. This year’s Kermit is the one that debuted in 2002, although there was another version born in the 1960s.

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