Pikachus are small, rodent-like creatures with powerful electrical abilities. Developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo, Pikachu has become a part of Japanese pop-culture in recent years and has also become an official mascot of the Nintendo brand. In the Pokémon anime series, Pikachu is the loyal companion of Pokémon trainer, Ash Ketchum, and is voiced primarily by Ikue Ōtani. In the 2019 feature film, Detective Pikachu, Pikachu is voiced by Canadian-American actor Ryan Reynolds.
History with the Macy's Parade
Concepts of a Pikachu balloon in the Parade have dated back to the initial height of Pokémon's popularity throughout early-mid 1999. Former Parade Director Jean McFaddin mentioned the exclusion of Pikachu in the 1999 event despite the character's massive popularity. "By the time Pokémon hit, we were already committed,” McFaddin stated. “Hopefully, Pokémon will be with us in the future.”
About two years later, Pokémon would make its Parade debut with an inflatable version of its flagship character, Pikachu. Pikachu made his Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade debut in 2001 in the form of a giant helium balloon, celebrating the Pokémon franchise's fifth anniversary milestone. The Pikachu was reminiscent of the video game, Pokémon Yellow's opening sequence, which featured Pikachu being lifted into the air by an array of blue balloons (which are absent in the balloon's design). The balloon measured in at 65 feet long, 30 feet tall and 30.8 feet wide, with 13,200 cubic feet of helium required to fill the pudgy Pikachu's body. The balloon's short stature makes it one of the smallest giant balloons in modern Parade history (in terms of height) behind the first version of Happy Dragon, which is only 20 feet tall.
In addition to a Pikachu balloon appearing in the Parade, a customized Volkswagen Beetle, known as the Pokémobile, followed the balloon through the route to 34th Street. A walk-around version of Pikachu also appeared on the Toon Balloon-Abration float, which celebrated the Parade's 75th Anniversary and featured costumed characters of balloons that graced the skies of New York City, including both past and present.
Despite the original balloon's retirement, it was used as a test subject on May 22nd, 2006, in Times Square. This test flight was held after an incident that took place at the previous year's Parade, involving the M&M's balloon veering into a streetlight and injuring two spectators. At this trial flight, Macy's Parade Studio members measured the crosswinds and wind, stress on the lines, reaction times, correction times, and the time it would take the pilots (the people who traditionally direct the balloon handlers) to get information about wind changes and adjust accordingly. Of note, this is the only time a test flight has taken place on the streets of New York City.
The balloon appeared once again at Bryant Park on August 8th, 2006, for the "Party of the Decade" event. This event featured the Flying Pikachu balloon soaring over the heads of guests, and was one of many experiences the event had to offer such as the finale of the Pokémon National Championships.
The first Pikachu balloon also made several appearances at the now-defunct Balloonopolis exhibit at Universal Orlando Resort, which featured an array of Macy's Parade balloons tethered to the ground and exclusive behind-the-scenes content. The balloon appeared at the 2006 and 2007 editions of the event, filled with air and displayed with Parade favorites, including Snoopy, Barney, Bullwinkle and many others.
Following the retirement of the original Pikachu balloon, a brand-new inflatable version of the electric mouse Pokémon debuted in the 2006 Macy's Parade. The "Pikachu with PokéBall" debuted as part of the aforementioned 10th anniversary celebrations, and featured flashing lights in Pikachu's cheeks, representative of the character's electrical abilities and powers. This special effect marks the second time a balloon has used a flashing light in its design, after 2001's Cheesasaurus Rex balloon. A 14-foot tall PokéBall balloon also joined the Pikachu balloon,
Akin to the previous Pikachu balloon, the Pikachu with PokéBall balloon appeared on the Parade's annual keepsake snow globe in 2007.
In 2010, the Pikachu balloon was joined by 14-foot tall sculpted statues of the legendary Pokémon, Reshiram and Zekrom, the mascots of the then-upcoming Pokémon Black and Pokémon White video games. The balloon handlers of the Pikachu balloon also donned black and white outfits, deviating from the traditional yellow handler outfits which were used up until that point.
In 2012, the ears of the Pikachu were over-inflated by inflation crews the night before the Parade. As a result, shortly after turning onto Central Park West, the balloon's ears burst due to the helium inside the balloon expanding. Despite the accident, the balloon continued on route and was fixed shortly after the 2012 Parade had ended.
The second Pikachu balloon made a cameo appearance in the 2019 Detective Pikachu film, alongside Parade balloons of fellow Pokémon Eevee, Bulbasaur, Gengar and Squirtle.
In 2014, a brand-new Pikachu balloon debuted in the Parade. Based on a 2008 Pokémon Center plush toy, this Pikachu balloon features Pikachu wearing a festive red-and-green scarf in preparation for the cold weather, joined by a smaller snowman Pikachu. Like its predecessors, the balloon traditionally appears in the Parade to promote the latest installments in the Pokémon video game series, television seasons and trading card game.
The balloon made its final appearance in the reimagined 2020 Parade. Though the balloon was originally going to appear with the help of a special framework of five utility vehicles, the balloon was cut as a result of rising COVID-19 cases, and footage from Parades past for its appearance were used on the NBC telecast. Accompanying the balloon was a group of dancing Pikachu who gave an "electrifying" performance and made way for a "special surprise" about the franchise's 25th Anniversary.
Pikachu returned to the 2021 Macy's Parade with an all-new balloon, now joined by fellow Pokémon Eevee, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise. The two Pokémon are featured on a giant PokéBall-inspired sled and dressed in cold-weather apparel as they make their way high above the Parade route, helping fans and families welcome in the holiday season. The Pikachu & Eevee balloon measures 34-feet tall, 48-feet long and 23-feet wide, with each blade on the sleigh equal in length to that of a semi-trailer truck.
“The Pokémon balloon has become a mainstay of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and one which fans and families look forward to year after year,” said Jordan Dabby, known as the producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “As Pikachu prepares to brighten the Parade route for the 21st consecutive year, we’d like to welcome Eevee to the Macy’s Parade as we look forward to them both delighting viewers for many years to come.”