Monday, March 15, 2010

D23 1 Year Anniversary Event, Pt. 2, The Return of Captain EO

Michael Jackson, Francis Coppola, and George Lucas collaborated on The Walt Disney Company’s “Captain EO,” a unique three dimensional narrative musical film presented by Kodak, which premiered September 19, 1986 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. This musical space fantasy starred Michael Jackson with original songs written, produced, and sung by Jackson, “Captain EO” was directed by Coppola, executive produced by Lucas, and produced by Rusty Lemorande.

With Jackson’s recent death, news quickly leaked that Disneyland was going to remove "Honey I Shrunk The Audience” and put “Captain EO” back into the Kodak Theater. Then, just as quickly as it was announced, it was yanked supposedly due to fear about any backlash from allegations made against Jackson while he was alive. Once the Disney corporation overcame that hurdle of fear, plans to return “EO” were quickly reinstated and it made its debut on February 23.

I remember seeing it the first time it was at Disneyland; “EO” seemed a little creeky and hokey to me even back then. I was a huge fan of Jackson’s talent during the 80’s when I was in college. Each song was a favorite, and I remember what a big deal it was to crowd around the TV each time one of his innovative videos was released on MTV. After awhile, I felt that his songs lost their edge and became too manufactured. I lost interest in him as his fame seemed more centered around his erratic behaviour than his musical genius. Seeing him in the recently released "This Is It” musical documentary reminded me exactly what the world lost; an extremely talented dancer, song stylist, musician, and creative being.

I checked out “EO” on Wednesday night during the D23 Anniversary Event, almost 24 years after its initial release. My thoughts were pretty much the same; very dated; not anything I hadn't already seen from Jackson. And yet it sure was a lot of fun to see. It’s definitely a time capsule of the videos that launched MTV: the fashions, the hairstyles, the attitudes, the choreography.

Even though the film had opened weeks ago, the audience broke into applause every time Michael was visible and cheered him on; it really was amazing. The 3D is not up to the technical standards of today’s 3D features, but it will still make you duck your head every now and then. The sound was incredible, and so was the movement of the room in the appropriate places. The laser effects were fewer and not quite as impressive as I originally remembered, but overall, it was enjoyable to watch...especially Jackson's famous moonwalk!

In the waiting area, there is a video that was originally shown back in 1986; it too is very dated, but a fun glimpse of “the making of...”; you rarely see Jackson in this video...other than his feet, and from the movement, you know who it is supposed to be.

UPDATE: Kurt, a Daveland reader, assembled this photo for me as a follow-up to my Snow White post last week. The Tony Curtis movie "40 Pounds of Trouble" features a lengthy sequence at Disneyland and is notable for its interior views of some of the Fantasyland Dark Rides. Here is a collage of the Snow White views:

Many thanks to Kurt! "Forty Pounds of Trouble" is available at See more current and vintage Captain EO photos at my regular website.


William Bezek said...

Return? Another shameless money grab by the Disney machine.
I did not care for this at all, it just felt like one big promo for the record and Michael Jackson was just too weird for Disneyland. He was more frightening to small children than any Disney villian could ever be. He was a suspected child molester and died of a drug overdose, so just what is Disney promoting here?

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Nice post Dave! I'm glad you got to see EO with a fun crowd. Yeah its still a little "creaky and hokey" that new 70mm print was obviously made from a "storage print" not the original negative, but on the plus side the sound system ROCKED - WOW!

William B. I understand your feelings on the return of EO and I am sure Disney considered the public perception of bringing this attraction back.

I was there on the day it re-opened and it seems like Disney did this for its Fan base and full-on MJ fans, not a Money Grab. I'm not sure the return of EO will effect the bottom line with the exception of some silly merchandise that only the serious EO/DL collector will purchase. But William I will admit, there was a certian "ickiness" that was not present before.

Chiana_Chat said...

I was there at the original premiere. Got the T-Shirt. Disneyland was open for days straight round the clock. Got the plastic arm band (that's what you needed to leave and return during that time). Michael was still top o' the world and so was Lucas; it was real neat but even during the "party" there was an odd sense about the whole thing that it was a bit flashy or past peak harvest date.

Two things, really; one, why Disney was depending on noticeably non-Disney "important people" for what seemed like their only substantial new addition in ages (the '83 Fantasyland remodel, great as it was, was a redo of old time Disney the likes of which the company hadn't produced in ages). Why did they need to spend all those millions and host a Jackson - Lucas video as a new Disneyland attraction? I did wonder that a bit at the time, despite the excitement of things at the moment.

The reason, one may see more clearly now, was that Jackson and Lucas were more inspired by Disney themselves than the people in charge of Disney were and had more or less made the association with the creatively stale company happen by virtue of their fame. They were so famous and Disney so uninspired that they could make their mark on Disney, in Disneyland, and that's what they darn well did.

Two, there was something about Jackson which would very shortly manifest itself in the music he was working on at this time: "Bad." Notice in Captain E-O he is in an all white variant - his good side for Disney. "Bad" shortly brought a similar style in all black. He was still a huge star and "Bad" a string of hits but even then I wondered if he wasn't losing the plot: why did he have to act "Bad" to begin with, what was wrong with being good? In tune with the cultural shifts? Yes, but he used to be a style setter not someone following it to "keep cool" and so it became clearer he had lost himself. He wasn't a hero to me but he was to some and people lost good guy Micheal in the ever gaining tide of negativity in music and media that would eventually become a flood.

Captain E-O - everyone gets the title right? Captain Video, Videos, Captain of the video, Vid E-O... - was exciting but cheesy and like many videos, not overly concerned with effective storytelling or anything else beyond 'fashion'. To me at the time and all the friends I went with including a big Jackson fan, old Disneyland was still the main attraction and E-O an entertaining excuse to enjoy more time there.

A few years on the bad news - not just the album Bad - came around, the success mostly stopped and the Jacko image lingered forever. It amazes me Disneyland & WDW kept E-O there for so long. My guess is that a) it cost tons and b) it was tough for them to let go of something that made the big players feel like big players, "we're associated with Coppola, Lucas" etc and c) no one was coming to them with a replacement and they still didn't have anything worth a darn of their own to replace it with for ages.

It was probably a much-considered, well intended gesture for the current management to bring it back, for now. It's not the last we might see of it either: it's never been on video and now 3-D and moreover 3-D TV are coming in big time, there may be a lucrative video market at last. It won't have the effects but that won't stop 'em. The lasers and such probably haven't been fully recreated for the "return" as it is. Of course the sound is amazing but why wouldn't it be? No significant progress has been made in sound for many decades, it's all been about visuals.

After what went down between 1986 and 2010, I wouldn't have gone out of my way for its return though.