Music Behind the Ride: Captain EO

One of the more unique Disney parks attraction was Captain EO. In this edition of Music Behind the Ride, I'll explore the 3D science fiction/fairytale/adventure/music video. With this attraction, the backstory is possibly more interesting than the film!

In an effort to bring new crowds into Disneyland, the idea was to create a 3D music video starring Michael Jackson. At the time, Jackson was a Disneyland regular and was at the height of his "Thriller" fame. At the same time Disney had invited George Lucas to collaborate on new attractions - Star Tours would later open at Disneyland in 1987.  The idea of Intergalactic Music Man healing things through music was set in motion.

The creative all stars were lead by George Lucas as executive producer with director Francis Ford Coppola at the helm.  The production crew included Rusty Lemorande as producer/co-writer, John Napier as costume designer, Jeff Hornaday as choreographer, visual effects by Harrison Ellenshaw, makeup and character designs by Rick Baker, Tom Burman and Lance Anderson. The human cast included Jackson as Captain EO and Angelica Huston as the Supreme Leader. The rest of EO's colorful crew included clumsy Hooter, the connected Geex, robotic Major Domo and small Fuzzball. 

Inside, you get your 3D glasses and watch the short preshow video. The video features behind the scene footage with Imagineers, Coppola and Lucas. Music for the video was by Richard Bellis. From there you entered the 700 seat theater and took your seat.

Captain EO and crew fly through space and are instructed by Commander Bog (Dick Shawn's holographic head) to find a homing beacon. Their ship crashes on the new planet. The crew is instructed to find the Supreme Leader (Anjelica Huston) and deliver her the gift. Guards surround the crew and take them to the Supreme Leader's lair. Captain EO says he has the gift that you don't just see, but also hear. Major Domo and Minor Domo transform into a keyboard, drum set and guitar. Hooter sets up the keyboard and EO's power turns the guards into backup dancers. They break into a full choreographed dance while EO sings "We Are Here to Change the World". EO's laser powers transforms more guards and eventually transform the Supreme Leader into an angelic woman with her metal surroundings turning to a lush Grecian-style temple. EO starts to sing "Another Part of Me" as they head for the gate and say goodbye.

Besides the 3D aspects, live theater effects included fog and lasers synced with the film. For this, Disneyland transformed the Space Stage to the enclosed Magic Eye Theater. Epcot's 3D theater in the Imagination Pavilion was renovated to accommodate the new film. Captain EO opened at both parks in September 1986. It would open in Tokyo Disneyland in 1987 and open with Disneyland Paris in 1992.

Musically, two new Michael Jackson songs are the centerpiece of the film. The rest of the film's music was provided by James Horner with additional music by Tim Truman. Horner's score has some mesmerizing future music for the auditorium entrance, and there's plenty of Star Trek and The Rocketeer comparisons in the spaceship portion of the film. There is a bit of Aliens-style menace to the Supreme Leader's lair before it transitions to the song portion. While he scored several Disney films, this would be Horner's only theme park work until Pandora opened in 2017.  No part of the score has been released on album. "Another Part of Me" was released on the Bad album in 1987, but it took until The Ultimate Collection in 2004 for a truncated "We Are Here to Change the World".

Captain EO closed in Epcot in 1994 and Disneyland in 1997 (both replaced by Honey, I Shrunk the Audience). Tokyo ended its run in 1996 and Paris ending in 1998. 

Its story continued long after closure. Following Michael Jackson's death in 2009, Disney pleased fans by bringing the Captain back to the parks as Captain EO Tribute. There were some slight audio/visual upgrades and readjustments of the in-theater effects. By 2015, the tribute had closed throughout the world.

At the time, Captain EO had everything - the production team, a powerhouse lead and groundbreaking theater effects. And that's not even mentioning the outrageous budget and production woes. Given the more than troublesome past of Michael Jackson, it's unlikely this will ever be seen on the big screen again.

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