Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your captain on today’s musical journey through outer space.
Today’s post is going to be a bit different because it is a full tribute to one of my favorite attractions of all time: Captain EO. The attraction first opened 30 years ago today, so I had to honor this film that never failed to make me smile. So now let’s take a step back to 1986 and the introduction of this one-of-a-kind attraction to our world.
In 1985, Michael Jackson was on top of the world because of the massive success of Thriller, still the best-selling album of all-time. Michael could do no wrong at the time, so when Disney came up with the idea to create a musical based attraction, there was no better man to ask than Michael Jackson.
What made this marriage even more fitting was that Michael Jackson was a huge fan of Disney. He would visit the parks multiple times a month and people spotted him all the time. I know that my parents even saw him one New Year’s Eve when they were at the park.
Anyway, Disney was able to get Michael on board without a hitch, but the talent for Captain EO did not stop there.
Disney got the best of the best for Captain EO, with six Oscar winners involved in the creation of the attraction. To direct the film, Disney brought in Francis Ford Coppola, the director of a little movie known as The Godfather. Looking at that classic film, you may be wondering why you would choose a director known for his dark tones to direct a musical, but Coppola actually had experience with the genre in the past. He had directed Finian’s Rainbow and One from the Heart, both feature-length musicals, before jumping into the director’s chair for Captain EO.
But Coppola wasn’t the only famous director involved in the project as George Lucas (honorary Oscar winner) served as an executive producer on the film, lending his fantastical eye to the space world of Captain EO. As you probably know, Lucas directed Star Wars, truly reviving the science fiction genre and influencing thousands of people to join the film industry. Interestingly enough, Lucas and Coppola were good friends during the 1960s, their careers taking seemingly similar turns, with Coppola producing the Lucas-directed film American Graffiti. Their friendship took a turn for the worse when Coppola took over the long-gestating project Apocalypse Now from Lucas, but it was probably for the best because we probably never would have gotten the Star Wars we know and love if Lucas had directed Apocalypse Now.
Captain EO marked the renewal of Lucas and Coppola’s partnership and thank goodness for that because the fruits of their labor are simply awesome. But the talent didn’t stop with them because James Horner (two-time Academy Award winner for Titanic) composed the beautiful score of the film.
While the music was an essential part of the film, the visuals of the film truly set the tone to create the grim world of Captain EO. To aid in bringing this fantasy to life, Coppola brought in one of his collaborators, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Oscar winner for Apocalypse Now amongst others). Though not directly involved as the cinematographer, Storaro was essential to the world-building of Captain EO, truly capturing the essence of the planet on film.
The reason that the film needed to look so good is that it was one of the first “4D” films. At the time, 3D was still associated with horror movies from the 1950s, with the medium not used very often (especially compared to today where it seems like everything is in 3D). With that in mind, almost no one on the crew had true experience with capturing the third dimension on film, so it was a test for everyone to create this brand-new attraction to be put into the Disney Parks. Disney had already experimented with 3D through the short film Magic Journeys, which, ironically enough, was the show that got the boot due to Captain EO.
But what set Captain EO apart was the planned use of the fourth dimension. In theme park jargon, utilizing the fourth dimension generally implies that in addition to watching a 3D film, the theater itself will also be laden with effects to add to the experience. All of the theaters where Captain EO was shown were specially retrofitted with lasers and smoke to fully immerse guests in the experience.
With all these key personnel working hard, the film was completed on schedule, and the Disney Parks were ready for their first 4D film. Captain EO officially premiered at the EPCOT Center on September 12, 1986, thirty years ago today. The film was an immediate success, so in addition to the planned opening at Disneyland on September 18, the attraction also became a part of Tokyo Disneyland on March 20, 1987 and an opening day attraction at Disneyland Paris on April 12, 1992.
Captain EO‘s tremendous success lies primarily with Michael Jackson’s star power. While the film might not the greatest story in the world, Michael carries guests through the adventure because of his stellar acting skills, as well as his phenomenal singing and dancing talent. However, Captain EO (Michael’s character) doesn’t do it alone because he is backed by his trusty companions, who make up both his ship’s crew and his band. In the above photos, you can see his crew including Idey and Ody (the two-headed alien), Major Domo (the robot) and Hooter (the blue-green elephant creature). Most important, though, is Fuzzball, who is perched on EO’s shoulder in the picture above.
Fuzzball is EO’s right-hand alien, who is always helping the crew avoid trouble. But my favorite fact about Fuzzball is that he was created by none other than legendary Hollywood makeup artist Rick Baker. Baker is a seven-time Academy Award winner and creator of aliens for films such as Star Wars and Men in Black. He was called into action to create the animatronics behind Fuzzball because its size complicated the hydraulics inside of it, requiring an expert. So Rick brings our tally of Oscar winners to five, which may leave you wondering who could be the elusive final member of the club.
Anjelica Huston, fresh off of her Oscar win for Prizzi’s Honor, portrays the Supreme Leader of the planet that Captain EO lands on. She was absolutely perfect in the role, having a menacing air about her that truly makes you fear for EO’s life. Personally, my favorite thing about her is her look because the costume is so creepy looking that it is simply awesome. She was completely transformed into an otherworldly being, both terrifying and amazing guests of all ages.
The Witch Queen was awesome, but the best part of the entire film has to be the dance sequences that are used to reshape the queen’s world. Captain EO flew to the planet of the Supreme Leader in order to help the citizens overcome her dictatorship. Singing the song “We Are Here to Change the World,” EO used the power of music to transform all of the dark, gloomy citizens into colorful dancers. But I don’t want to go too deep into the story in case you never had the opportunity to experience the classic attraction. If lack of experience applies to you, you can find the film right below because you have to watch it as soon as you can!
Unfortunately, Captain EO‘s popularity began to dwindle as time went on and technology caught up with the attraction. It was no longer the marvel that it was when it first opened, so plans went into action to replace Captain EO with a new 3D film based off of the hit film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The first casualty occurred in Epcot on July 6, 1994. Epcot served as a testing ground for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, where Disney tested how well it operated before getting rid of Captain EO at all the parks.
In sad news for fans of EO, the Epcot experiment was a success, and all of the theaters showing the film switched to Honey, I Shrunk the Audience by 1998. But surprisingly, the story doesn’t end there because of an unfortunate event in 2009.
Michael Jackson died suddenly on June 25, 2009, and rumors immediately began to swirl about the return of Captain EO as a tribute to the King of Pop. Disney was initially mum on whether the attraction would return, but they eventually announced that the film would indeed be returning because of the upgrade to Star Tours and the need to deal with capacity issues in Tomorrowland.
Originally, the tribute began as a Disneyland exclusive, opening on February 23, 2010 with enormous crowds for months. In fact, the return was so successful that plans were quickly put in place to return Captain EO to all of its former locations around the world by July 2010. What started as a temporary stay quickly extended to a more permanent residence with each of the attractions lasting for at least four years.
Captain EO‘s return run marked a historic moment in Disney history because almost no attractions get a second chance at the Disney Parks, especially not in four different parks. While the reopening didn’t feature all of the 4D effects from the original attraction (there were still a few lighting effects as well as some clever uses of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience’s installations), it was still an amazing experience to behold.
I remember seeing Captain EO at Disneyland for the first time when the tribute was still fairly new and being completely mind blown by how amazing it was. I immediately fell in love with the film, wanting to turn right around and watch it again. I was already a huge Michael Jackson fan at the time, so seeing one of my favorite musicians in a retro science fiction musical was literally the best. The film truly struck a chord with me and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to see it in the theater as many times as I did.
One other part that truly amazed me was when I saw the Fastpass for it (that you can see in the picture above). It was so cool to accidentally get a Captain EO Fastpass, especially with how cool it looked printed on the Space Mountain ticket. I remember freaking out as I showed my parents and using it even though the attraction didn’t have a long line that day. It was just one of many amazing memories from Captain EO and I am so grateful to Disney for giving me the opportunity to experience this attraction that had closed when I was still an infant.
Understandably, the tribute did have to come to an end eventually, but the fact that it lasted four to five years is an accomplishment in itself. The attraction was still popular, but it was time for new experiences, so the film slowly started to exit the parks. The film first left Disneyland (replaced by a preview for Guardians of the Galaxy), then Tokyo Disneyland (to become Stitch Encounter), and finally Disneyland Paris and Epcot (both of which were replaced by the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival).
Before we come to an end, I have a few bonus videos to share as this was a special edition tribute post, so it’s only fitting that I add a little extra. First, to celebrate the opening of the film, Disney created a behind the scenes film showcasing the production of the film. Whoopi Goldberg narrated it, and it is a great source of knowledge on what truly went into the creation of the film. It’s a bit lengthy, but it is super informative and a must-watch for fans of the attraction that I highly recommend.
The second video is a fan-made (Cast Members can be fans too) film that never fails to make me laugh. It’s entitled Captain Eeyore, and it’s exactly what you think it would be. The video puts Eeyore into the role of Captain EO and features a lot of your favorite Disney characters throughout. It’s a bit quirky, but I think it works perfectly and is well worth the watch.
And with that, our tribute to Captain EO comes to a close, but we’ll still have another post later this week. It’ll be another throwback Thursday, and the post will follow these clues.
1. These performances were all based upon Disney Animated Classics released during the 1990s.
2. These performances did not occur in only one land of the park.
3. All of the classics had an Oscar-nominated song.
I hope you enjoyed this special edition of Disney Extinct Attractions. It’s always a pleasure to write these articles, but this was especially fun because of how much I loved Captain EO! As always, I love to hear what you thought of Captain EO and the article as a whole, so comment below or reach out to me through any of the places listed on my bio!
And with that great joke, have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.