Captain EO

Captain EO

What do you get when you mix 3-D technology with two giants of the movie making industry (Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas), the late King of Pop (Michael Jackson), a dark galactic theme and a healthy dose of Disney Magic? Captain EO, one of the biggest attractions to hit the Disneyland theme parks in the 80s.

Captain EO premiered at Epcot’s Imagination Pavilion on September 12, 1986. Six days later, the film made its debut at Disneyland, taking up residence in Tomorrowland’s Magic Eye Theater. For this special occasion, Disneyland remained open for a whopping 36 hours straight, bringing out a wild and crazy mix of Disney and Michael Jackson fans, ready to celebrate around the clock. And for good reason – Captain EO was an innovative and unforgettable attraction.

So, what was the Captain EO experience like? Each guest was handed a pair of polarized 3-D glasses as they entered the Magic Eye Theater, then directed towards rows of movie theater seats. Soon, the theater darkened and the show began, glasses were donned, anticipation levels rose, and magic ensued.

As the story begins, Captain EO (played by Jackson) embarks on a mission to bring a special gift to the evil (and cranky) Supreme Leader. But before he can land on his own, he and his crew are captured and brought before the ominous Borg-like queen. She descends creepily, in all her cybernetic and spider-like glory. And she isn’t there to make nice; she sentences the captain and crew to 100 years of torture. Now, EO is willing to do the time… but not without first giving the Supreme Leader her gift.

With the presentation of said gift, funky, bass-slapping music erupts from all directions of the theater, providing an aural backdrop for an assortment of laser and smoke effects that accentuate an old-fashioned battle between good and evil. Captain EO launches into song and dance, and mysterious transformations begin to take place for all involved.

The attacking troops go from shades of gray to bright warm splashes of gold, orange and red. Emboldened by the success of these transformations, Captain EO rips open his white jacket to reveal the brightest rainbow the galaxy (and the audience, for that matter) has ever seen. This act of unabashed rainbow-blasting completely transforms the Supreme Leader, morphing her into the beautiful queen (played by the equally-beautiful Angelica Houston) that she was meant to be.

The moral of the story? Never underestimate the power of music. Or the power of dance. Or the power of “the gloved one” for that matter. As Michael sang to us all: “We are here to change the world!”

The 17-minute Captain EO show cost an unheard-of million dollars per minute to produce. Taking inflation into consideration, the cost of Captain EO would be almost 31 million today, making it the most expensive film, per minute, ever produced. But to a kid in the 80s, the awesome effects were worth every penny – and impressive enough to satisfy the grown-ups in the audience, too.

Captain EO quietly faded away from Epcot in 1994, and from Disneyland in 1998, replaced by another 3-D spectacular, Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Then the unspeakable happened in 2009 when Michael Jackson died. Heeding fan demands, Disney returned the attraction to all of its theme parks in tribute to the beloved performer.

Even though 23 years had passed since the attraction’s original debut, and even though the film practically screams “80s,” long lines outside the resuscitated Captain EO show proved that the magic has yet to wear off, evidenced by the cheer that always erupts in the theater when Jackson makes his first appearance. The film is a reminder of the innocence of an era, when moonwalking and 3D movies made just about anything seem possible.

If you have fond memories of seeing Captain EO at any of the Disney theme parks, we welcome your recollections in our comments section below.

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