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So Long, Bad Times

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When you look back on your youth certain things are looked upon with a reverence and awe that makes them stick out in your mind as nothing less than awesome.  And when you’re a total geek like I am, certain names, books, and movies come to the fore in your mind.  As a Disney fan during the heyday of such great things as Star Wars, The Godfather, and Caddyshack, you can only imagine how exciting it was to hear that Francis Ford Copala, George Lucas, and Rusty Lemorande were making a movie for the Disney parks.  And when they threw Michael Jackson into the mix… Woo!

Captain EO is a movie that stars Michael Jackson as Captain EO and Angelica Huston as The Supreme Leader.  It was an idea that stemmed from Jackson’s desire to get more involved in movies.  David Geffen suggested that he make one for Disney and contacted his friend Jeffrey Katzenberg who conferred with Michael Eisner about it.  They suggested that instead of a full movie they do a 3D music video to capitalize on the success of Thriller.  Jackson insisted on the involvement of either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg.  And an agreement was struck.

Three different story-lines were created by the Imagineer Rick Rothschild and together with Jackson they settled on Captain EO.  As Lucas was already working with Disney on Star Tours, he ended up working with Jackson.  And $30 million later, for many, the result was an amazing phenomenon of epic proportions that lasted for more than a decade around the world. It had first opened at Epcot (then EPCOT Center) in 1986, and Disneyland 6 days later – the closest original opening date of the same attraction in multiple parks.  It was also released in Tokyo Disneyland, and then Disneyland Paris.

The movie does have it’s detractors, many of whom felt the plot was a big, complicated mess. Other’s have stated disappointment in the quality of a product laced with such an incredible wealth of talent.  The truth is that it’s all about taste, and I’d clearly avoid the movie if you’re not a Michael Jackson or Science Fiction fan.  It does have a magical quality to it that makes it warm and inviting for an entire family, which is what Disney parks are really all about.

As the movie closed around the world, the fans would not let it die.  And for a long time it lived on through memories – helped along by the Internet through fan sites and YouTube.  But it wasn’t until Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009 that things got exciting.  The rumor mill kicked into high gear and it was even said that Disney officials had held a private screening of Captain EO in Disneyland’s Magic Eye Theater.  Some discouragement came in September 2009 when Bob Iger was reported as saying that there were no plans to bring it back.

Finally, that December it was announced that Captain EO would return to Disneyland.  Later followup annoucements disclosed that some of the original theater effects would not be returning (smoke and lasers), but that those effects that the theater did support would be incorporated.  And that a new 70mm print of the film along with an already enhanced theater sound system would help to enhance the experience.  And so on February 23, 2010 Captain EO returned to Disneyland.  It also eventually re-opened at the other three original locations.  Fanfare ensued.  Fans rejoyced.

The movie is only 17 minutes long and is projected in 3D and during it’s original run incorporated many in theater effects such as lasers and smoke that were synchronized to the film.  It is regarded as being one of the very first “4D” films and Lemorande who suggested they incorporate this into the movie – as a result he is often referred to as the “Father of 4D”.  With the smoke an lasers gone in the current theaters, you’re left with a shaking floor, bass speakers under the seats, water spray, and air guns.  The experience, while not 100% the same as the original, is completely there.

The plot of the movie is very simple and basic.  Captain EO is the captain of small spacecraft and it’s crew: Fuzzball (special effects: Rick Baker), Hooter (Tony Cox), Idy (Debbie Lee Carrington), Ody (Cindy Sorenson), Major Domo (Gary DePew) , and Minor Domo.  Their “boss” Commander Bog (Dick Shawn), only shown as a floating holographic head, has sent them to a trash filled mechanical wasteland of a planet in order to liberate it’s people through the sound of music and the passion of love.  This is their last chance to prove themselves or they’ll be “drummed out of the corps.

What comes next is a space battle, followed by a crash landing, followed by our heroes being captured.  They are brought before the HR Giger inspired Supreme Leader who sentences them all to death by trashcan or imprisonment.  Captain EO however offers her a gift in return, and what ensues is an amazing song and dance number as Captain EO transforms all the palace inhabitants winning them over to his cause.  With their help, he eventually transforms the Supreme Leader into Angelica Huston, who, in 1986, was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world.  The mechanical shell of the world is removed as it is transformed into a paradise.  The End.

The movie has two orchestral pieces – the underlying score and the pre-show music.  It also has what were at the time two brand new Michael Jackson songs.  The one fans of the show probably find themselves singing/humming is “We Are Here to Change the World” which is the song used to eventually transform the Supreme Leader.  It was never released as part of an album until 2004 on “The Ultimate Collection” and is a shorter version than what is heard in Captain EO.  The second song is a very early version of “Another Part of Me” which can be found on the Grammy Award winning album “Bad”.

As I’ve indicated above, if you’re a Michael Jackson fan or a Science Fiction fan, or better yet both, then see this movie.  For everyone else, your mileage may vary.  As someone in the “both” category, I can’t help but love this movie in all it’s pure cheesy and awesome glory.  If there’s any way that Michael Jackson should be remembered it’s this way, when he was on top as the “King of Pop.”  He did after all change the world.

What about you? Have you seen Captain EO?  The original release?  The current release only?  Both?  Do you love it?  Hate it?  Why?  We’re bringin’ brighter days.

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Todd Perlmutter

Todd is a Central Florida local who just so happens to be a mega geeky Disney, tech, and gaming nerd. Lives or dies by his iPhone - it spending a significant amount of time in his hand while he's at Walt Disney World. In addition to being blogger here at TouringPlans.com he is also a developer working on the Touring Plans Engine, the Chief Technical Officer for The Disney Driven Life, and co-host of the Disney Film Project Podcast. Loves his wife (@cherylp3) and pup (@DisneyDoggie). You can reach Todd via Twitter (@tperlmutter) or Facebook (tperlmutter).

28 thoughts on “So Long, Bad Times

  • I have to say, I kind of agree with Tom B. Like Neville, I grew up in the era of MJ, and saw the original in 1986 when I was 14 (yes I’ll be 39 this year). I loved Captain EO! It was a truly memorable experience. This is the way I prefer to remember MJ, before he got sooo weird, creepy, & someone of questionable character at a minimum. I definitely will not go to the re-release when I’m at WDW next month.

    • If you enjoyed it the first time, go and see it again if you happen to be at Epcot!

      • Have to agree with Neville, if you want to remember MJ for what he was back then then that’s a great reason to see Captain EO.

  • I just saw Captain EO for the first time, yesterday! As someone who grew up in the MJ era (I turn 40 this year) it was a treat and brought back a lot of memories! My wife loved it as well. Our kids (age 8 and 9) did not really know anything about the 80’s or MJ, but they enjoyed the 3D movie. Overall, I am very glad that I got to see it finally!

  • I will be the first to admit that I like MJ’s music, and also that I compartmentalize the private lives and acts of people from their vocational acts. I was saddened by the news of Jackson’s death (but also not insane to the degree of watching hours upon hours of news about it), but that sadness was tempered with a realization of who he was. Being a good person and being a good performer are mutually exclusive, in my opinion. However, none of that changes the person’s behavior, nor does it make it justifiable for the WALT DISNEY company to sanction that behavior.

    I would have thought Disney would err on the side of caution, and would have kept out a man who likely engaged in egregious acts. As a company predicated on strong family values, Disney does not have to follow the same “rules” as the courts that acquitted Jackson. The Walt Disney Company can judge Michael Jackson, determine his image does not suit the company, and not associate with him. Instead of doing this, the company chose to bring the attraction back, because it would likely sell more merchandise than HISTA (and was a cheap changeover), and thus result in increased profits.

    I wonder if anyone would have a problem with it if Disney announced plans tomorrow to introduce “OJ Simpson’s Gridiron Bash” at Innoventions. I mean, after all, he was never found guilty criminally. Would that be different? If so, is it really different, or is it just different because people like Michael Jackson’s music and they hold nostalgia for Captain EO?

    Even getting past MJ’s likely acts, I think the attraction is incredibly dated and is not something worthy of being in Epcot. I think people’s nostalgia for the attraction blinds them to just how cheesy it is.

  • I didn’t get to see this as a kid! 🙂 I only knew of Captain EO from the “Making of…” TV special that aired around that time. So a lifelong dream was fulfilled to finally get to view it at Epcot when my wife and I visited for the first in February.

  • My one must-do thing at WDW when I went for a weekend visit earlier this month was “Captain EO”. It was even better than I remembered from my childhood and, all things considered, “Honey, I Blew Your Eardrums Out” can go right to hell.

    • Point taken. I’d be surprised to hear anyone say they miss “Honey I Shrunk the Audience”.

      • At my risk of being barraged, I have to say I much prefer HISTA over EO. I’m not saying it was the best show ever. But it warranted a viewing at least every few visits or so. I grew up with the HISTK franchise, so maybe that strikes a heavier cord with me than the Michael Jackson faded jean jacket era.

      • Hi Laura, no biggie. I was never too fond of the HISTK movies, though I was mildly interested in the TV show for a bit. To each their own, but HISTA comes off as much more dated to me.

  • Capt EO is one of my favorite WDW attractions. It is one of the best and worst things you’ll ever see (those who’ve seen it will understand). I hope it stays around for a long time! It is so much better than that Honey I Shrunk the Auidence show.

  • I saw it in the summer of 1987 when I was 16 and thought it was absolutely fantastic. It was the first 3/4D movie I had ever seen and the extra theater effects put it over the top. In 1987 I was a dancer and after my fourth time watching the mini-movie I had the moves pretty much down! I remember being in high school during the late 80’s and getting to go to a Jackson concert or even getting to see Capitan EO was a big deal. I remember buying a t-shirt and pins (the kind you put on a denim jacket) and having my friends ooohh and ahhhh over my opportunity to see it. Of course, when I saw the re-release during my Thanksgiving vacation last year I was not a dancer anymore but it still made me want to be one again. I even bought a t-shirt and a pin! While I only saw it one time, this time around, I hope it will be there when I go back to Epcot in July. I will say that it was easy to tell who had watched Captain EO before and who had not. Half the audience was singing along! I love the campy, cheesy lines and the dancing but best of all, it was nice to see Michael Jackson in his prime dancing and singing on the big screen again.

    • That’s awesome. I like to dance, but I’ve never had “moves”. You should just bust it out. The dancing still has to be in there somewhere 😉

      Ah… denim…

  • I saw Captain EO in 1986 when I was 10 years old. I must admit I don’t really remember much of it. However I am hoping it sticks around a little while so I can experience it again on my trip this October.

    • I can’t say for sure, but I think it’ll be there for a while longer. They haven’t announced a replacement and it’s still packing the theater every time I go.

  • I was heartbroken to not make it to WDW when Captain EO was there! I LOVED Michael Jackson.

    I am a child of the 80’s, I like Science Fiction and I will always love Michael Jackson, but I won’t have the nostalgia factor at work, since I didn’t see it. Will I like the movie?

    • Here’s what I tell anyone who asks.

      Go in assuming it will be completely cheesy and yet completely awesome and that’s exactly what you’ll get. It’s not great Science Fiction (in fact it’s clearly “B” Sci-Fi), but it’s a great music video as was said, and it’s just a lot of fun. And like I said it is the best way to remember Michael Jackson.

  • I had a similar experience as Betsy. I was 3 when I first saw the film in (what were my parents thinking?!). All I remember is claws coming out of the screen trying to attack me! Fast forward 25 years later, I went to see it in February with my husband who was a true child of the 80’s. It was his first trip to Epcot, so he had never seen EO. After seeing the film, we both agreed its one of those things you had to have loved as a child in order to appreciate the re-release. Otherwise, it just comes off as a bad 80’s music video. But if that nostalgia takes you back to being a kid and seeing if for the first time, then I can totally understand why people love it. As for me, its not something I’ll be going back to see again in the near future.

    • Sad to hear, but understandable as well.

      For me I’d already found religion seeing Luke Skywalker learn to use the Force, so my perspective was already skewed toward liking it.

  • One of the earliest memories I have of any Disney vacation was in 1988. I was 4 and saw Captain EO…I remember being terrified of the sci-fi 3D objects flying at me. I think this might be why I haven’t taken the time to go check it out now as an adult. Seeing Captain EO as a pre-schooler pretty much scarred me for life. I also remember being scared of some part of Magic Journeys so maybe I just wasn’t ready for 3D at that time in my life.

    • Afraid of 3D? We can’t allow for that. Let Cheryl and I know the next time you’re in and we’ll hold your hands as you watch to get you through your fears 🙂

  • I remember seeing this on my first WDW visit in 1989. I was 9, a Michael Jackson fan since I had been 4, so this was a big deal for me. I bought a Fuzzball plush back then, which I still own. It’s one of my most unique Disney item.

    It’s been more than 20 years, I’m still a huge MJ fan, and when I heard that Disney was bringing the movie back, I chose to visit Epcot in February 2011 over other parks, just so I could relive a childhood memory. I found myself giddy with excitement. It was the same feeling I had when I was a child. It’s pure cheese (dancers with mullets? :)), but Michael then was an absolute King. Love the songs, know the songs by heart, can’t help but have a huge smile when I see it. Planning to see it again in May. So, absolutely, 100 % love it.

    But I still prefer my 1989 Fuzzball to the current one WDW is selling 😛

    • Heh that’s awesome Annie. Do you bring Fuzzball with you?

      I love things that bring various loves together like that.

  • I vividly remember EO from it’s original release. It’s what I grew up with starting at age 6 or 7! So when they announced it was coming back, I was thrilled. The first time seeing it on it’s return, I still remembered almost every single word and can sing the song by heart. So for me? I love it 🙂

    • Awesome. Yeah… I have a few good memories of it, but for a long time until I was watching it on YouTube and then in person it was getting muddled in my head some. So glad it’s back.


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