In the mid 1980s, Disney brought in Michael Eisner from Paramount and Frank Wells from Warner Brothers to essentially run Walt Disney Productions (soon to be renamed The Walt Disney Company). One of the very first projects that caught their attention was an extravagant 3D MTV-style music video starring Michael Jackson. Wells placed a call to Dick Nunis and president of Imagineering Carl Bongirno and asked them, “What would your designers want to do if they could develop an attraction with Michael Jackson?”
The response was immediate, given that Disney had recently developed the most sophisticated 3D camera system in the world. Not long after Wells made that call, Michael Jackson, accompanied by head of Walt Disney Pictures Jeffrey Katzenberg, met with some of the design staff at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). Once presented with the idea, he was immediately onboard. He did have a request, however. “I’d like to do it with George or Steven.” Everyone knew he was referring to Lucas and Spielberg, and it was a rather serendipitous revelation. Lucas was already in talks with Disney about developing a motion simulator attraction based on the mythology of his Star Wars films. He was of course interested, but decided to act as Executive Producer, and brought in his friend Francis Ford Coppola to direct.
|Lucas, Jackson, Coppola
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WDI designer Rick Rothschild put together a team that would ultimately fabricate three different storylines for Jackson and Lucas to choose from, and the two picked the same one: Jackson as a space captain named “EO” tasked with bringing music and dance to a distant planet under the rule of an evil queen. Creative talent from around the entertainment industry flocked to the production. In addition to Lucas and Coppola, film composer James Horner came aboard, and Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston was cast as the evil queen. But the star-studded cast and crew wouldn’t be enough for WDI. “While the film was being produced on one side of town,” said Rothschild, “we had to create a theater that was so laden with special effects that the audience would feel that they had been drawn right into the movie.” The venue, named the Magic Eye Theater, opened in Disneyland a few months before EO, and was the temporary home for the 3D film Magic Journeys.
|Mickey found some new friends
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Captain EO made its debut on September 12, 1986, in Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center. It premiered in Disneyland six days later, Tokyo Disneyland the following year, and opened with Disneyland Paris in 1992. The opening night party for Disneyland’s premiere of EO kicked off a celebration that kept the Anaheim park open for sixty consecutive hours. Some critics labeled the film as cheesy, but that didn’t stop fans from all over enjoying Jackson in his heyday, dancing to his two new original songs, “We Are Here to Change the World” and “Another Part of Me”.
|We are here to change, the, world
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As Jackson’s popularity began to wane in the mid-1990s, so did Captain EO’s. Walt Disney World was the first resort to shutter the attraction in 1994. Tokyo Disneyland was next in 1996, Disneyland in 1997, and Disneyland Paris in 1998. Each venue replaced EO with an 18-minute 3D short titled Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, featuring characters from the 1989 Disney film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Eight months after Jackson’s untimely death in June of 2009, the King of Pop returned to Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom.
Disney decided to bring Captain EO back for a limited run. The film was relabeled Captain EO Tribute, and original producer Rothschild acted as a consultant for the film’s comeback. Disney added a making-of featurette to the theater’s queuing area, and even made a new print of the film, updating the audio and adding “tactile” elements to the movie. On February 22, 2010, the night before EO’s reopening, fans gathered in a special line outside of Disneyland to be amongst the first to experience it. Within months, EO reopened in Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Epcot.
|Attraction poster for the revived Tribute show|
Rumors have began circulating as of late, indicating the re-closing of Captain EO. In May of 2011, however, Tokyo Disneyland announced that the closing date for the film had been eliminated, essentially making it a permanent attraction. While that’s unlikely to happen stateside, Jackson and Disney fans are enjoying the show while they can, seemingly in agreement that it’s been nice seeing MJ “change the world” one more time.