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‘Captain EO’ Turns 30

Captain EO turns 30 today. In our day and age, it exists as a relic of a bygone era of early 3D. However, at the time it was one of the biggest attraction debuts in Disney history. The fact that it was made at all seems like a miracle, as this sit-down “4D” experience starring Michael Jackson brought together some of the greatest and most powerful creative forces (with some of the largest egos) of the time. On the Captain EO 30th anniversary, we examine how this landmark Disney attraction was made, and relive the final result.

EO
Captain EO opened September 12, 1986, at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

What Is Captain EO?

Captain EO is a futuristic musical short film about a Captain and his goofball crew.  It follows them on their quest to deliver a gift to the supreme leader (played by Angelica Houston). When they arrive, confrontation awaits in the form of the leader’s royal guard. It’s at that time we learn that the gift the captain and his crew bring is not to seen but to be heard. The crew turns into musicians and through song, dance, and a message of hope, ultimately transform the supreme leader from a haggard old robot/spider creature to a beautiful woman. The crew celebrates, the credits rolls, and the audience files out of the auditorium accompanied by the hit Jackson single “Another Part of Me.”

The 3D imagery and other in-theater effects set Captain EO apart from other 3D movies at the time.  The film featured smoke and lasers that made the audience feel like part of the experience (and woke up any dads that were trying to grab a quick nap between attractions at the park).

How Did Captain EO Get Made?

It’s 1986 and Disneyland is desperate to make a splash with new 3D movie technology. They want to go big. Consequently, they hire the world’s biggest pop star, one of its most famous directors and an even more famous producer to put together a film. This movie is to be shown in the two Disney flagship parks in America: Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Michael Jackson headlined the production. At the time, many recognized him as the most famous person in the world  His albums sold more than anyone in history to that point and he sold out every show he played anywhere on the globe. He truly was the “King of Pop.” He was to be the project’s leading man.

George Lucas joined on as executive producer. Fresh off the success of his Star Wars trilogy, Lucas was white hot. Consequently, he was the go-to guy for what Disney hoped would be the biggest 3-D space movie that had ever been made. Lucas as the EP should have indicated a potential Spielberg directorial. That did not come to fruition due to a historic burying of the hatchet.

Francis Ford Coppola was world renowned for his Godfather films as well as over a dozen Academy Award nominations  He worked with Lucas on American Graffiti and they were set to work together on Apocalypse Now. Lucas would direct and Coppola would produce. The size and success of Star Wars caused Lucas to pull out, causing friction between the two. Eight years later, Coppola agreed to work with Lucas again on this historic production.

Captain EO had a $23 million dollar budget and runs 17 minutes.  Adjusted for inflation, it is the most expensive movie ever made on a per minute basis.  The 30-year adjustment translates to $4.6 million dollars per minute!  That surpasses this years’ big budget Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which cost roughly $3.5 million per minute.

The Legacy of Captain EO

Captain Eo
The final viewing of Captain EO was in this theater at Epcot Center

After its initial run, Captain EO stopped playing at all of the theme parks. Many blamed Jackson’s dwindling appeal and low attraction attendance numbers. Upon Jackson’s death, the movie reopened in all of Disney’s major theme parks including Tokyo Disney and Disneyland Paris.  It was never released to the public and the only time it was shown outside of a Disney park was in 1996 on an MTV Michael Jackson special.

The final public showing of Captain EO was Dec. 6, 2015 at Epcot Center in Disney World Florida.

Captain EO could be regarded as the the first 4D film experience in a theme park. Its influence can be seen in several other Disney attractions throughout the years, including the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, Soarin’ Over California, and Muppet*Vision 3D attractions.


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