A balloon of cartoonist Paul Frank's Julius heads downtown during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, in New York. The jetpack-wearing monkey and a freakish creation from filmmaker Tim Burton are two of the big new balloons that will make their inaugural appearances in front of millions of people at this year's parade. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK (AP) — A festive mood prevailed Thursday as the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade made its way through the crowded streets of Manhattan beneath brilliant sunshine.
A jetpack-wearing monkey and a freakish creation from filmmaker Tim Burton are two of the big new balloons that were making their inaugural appearances. Paul Frank's Julius and Burton's B. joined more than a dozen other giant balloons, including fan favorites like Snoopy and Spider-Man.
"Here comes Snoopy!" said an excited Regan Lynch, 5, nudging her grandfather, Nick Pagnozzi.
Pagnozzi, 59, of Saddle River, N.J., drove into the city at 6 a.m. to get a seat on the bleachers along Central Park West. Regan wanted to make sure he took pictures of every balloon.
In all, the parade featured more than 40 balloon creations, 27 floats, 800 clowns and 1,600 cheerleaders. The star power included Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo Green, Avril Lavigne and the Muppets of Sesame Street. Some performances were at a stage at the end of the route in Herald Square; others were on floats.
"Those kids, they play good music and they really put on a good show," Wilfred Denk, of Munich, Germany, said as he watched the marching bands. He and his wife, Bethina, were on their honeymoon in New York.
Suddenly, a float bearing a replica of Mount Rushmore came into view. "Look, Neil Diamond!" said Bethina Denk.
The crowd on Seventh Avenue started singing "Sweet Caroline! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" as Diamond waved.
Near the beginning of the route, Conor Jones, 5, of the Bronx, ducked as a troupe of clowns dressed as firefighters doused the crowd with multicolored confetti. He and his twin brother, Nolan, have attended the parade three years in a row.
"I like the bands best," he said. His brother preferred the Spider-Man balloon.
Dozens of handlers got revved up with a cheer heralding their cartoon balloon character: "Buzz! Lightyear! Buzz! Lightyear!"
Nearby, balloon handler Joe Sullivan, a retired banker, held one of six nylon lines securing a huge floating pumpkin. He's been volunteering in the parade for more than 15 years.
"When it's windy it's a struggle," he said. "But today is great weather. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Macy's predicted 3.5 million people could crowd the parade route, while an additional 50 million watched from home.
The parade begins at 77th Street and heads south on Central Park West to Seventh Avenue, before moving to Sixth Avenue and ending at Macy's Herald Square.
The parade got its start in 1924 and included live animals such as camels, goats and elephants. It was not until 1927 that the live animals were replaced by giant helium balloons. The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium were needed for World War II.
Since the beginning, the balloons have been based on popular cultural characters and holiday themes. Returning favorites this year include Buzz Lightyear, Clumsy Smurf, SpongeBob SquarePants and Kermit the Frog.
Also making their first appearances at this year's parade are a pair of bike-powered balloons, one featuring a bulldog character and an elf balloon designed by Queens resident Keith Lapinig, who won a nationwide contest.
All the balloons are created at Macy's Parade Studio, and each undergoes testing for flight patterns, aerodynamics, buoyancy and lift.
Associated Press Writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.