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Flashback: on 1986’s Captain EO

Alright, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I was at Disney World in Orlando for a week. Nostalgia trip(I haven’t been there in over 25 years)for me, and first time for my wife and boys(oldest is 8, little one is 6 next week). So, that’s the reason for my mid-fall hiatus. Oh, how I need to watch “Escape from Tomorrow” again! I didn’t exactly experience a mid-life crisis, but all that happiness can certainly give one pause. We’re not exactly Disney people you see, but we did have a lot of fun—despite the ridiculous crowds. Caught most of the popular rides, and(of course)there are lots of film-inspired attractions throughout the four main parks(managed to get to them all). But was there anything I could actually review, I pondered. Of course! Captain EO! I was surprised it didn’t occur to me immediately.

My first trip to “Captain EO” was in April of 1988—my previous trip to Disney when I was 22 years old. And the lure of the film, if you don’t already know, was a prime, red-hot Michael Jackson, at the height of his career. By the time I initially experienced “Captain EO”, it had already been running for over 18 months, opening at Epcot’s Future World in September of 1986. I was a big MJ fan throughout the 1980’s. Not only was I one of the first people in my neighborhood to buy the “Thriller” album in late 1982(on cassette tape!), but I got to see Michael live, with his brothers, in late summer 1984 at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium for the massive “Victory” tour. The album “Bad” was released in August 1987, and it broke records by eventually spawning six #1 singles. The release was still eating up the radio airwaves when I attended “Captain EO” the next year. It was a time when Michael Jackson was everywhere.

It’s a really simple and kind of goofy story, but at barely 18 minutes long—who cares?! MJ is space traveller, Captain EO, and his fuzzy, cuddly crew consists of a gaggle of cutesy animals that are a cross between Muppets and Ewoks(did I mention that the short film was produced by George Lucas?). EO’s mission finds him delivering a gift to the hostile leader of an alien planet, a scary, sharp-nailed creature that eventually exposes its inner beauty(when EO charms “it” with a little song-and-dance). The transformed monster is played by Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston—MJ rarely ever did anything small. You get a “moonwalk” from Michael, and two songs: one called “We Are Here to Change the World”, plus “Another Part of Me”, which would appear on “Bad” a year after “Captain EO’s” initial release. “Captain EO” was shot in 3D, and the Epcot theater had in-house laser and smoke effects during the presentation—which had many dubbing it a 4D presentation. Oh, and it cost around 30 million dollars to make(about 1.75 million a minute in 1986). You realize it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, right? Like I said, rarely anything small.

Revisiting “Captain EO” with my family last week was a gas—and a blast from the past too. It had closed in 1994, btw, but was revived in 2010 after fans clamored for its return after Michael’s untimely passing in 2009. Gone are the smoke and laser effects I experienced in 1988, but there is the addition of hydraulics under your chair that simulate travel in Captain EO’s spacecraft, and “seat-back misters” to occasionally “dampen” the audience(apparently these effects were previously utilized for the theater’s former attraction, “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!”). The songs will have you dancin’ in your seats, and the 3D effects are really spectacular(my eight-year old was constantly flinching, as spears, characters and asteroids constantly launched right into his face). And I found it difficult to avoid getting a little misty-eyed, as MJ’s Captain EO waves goodbye to the audience at the finale.

Michael Jackson was my generation’s Elvis, and I’ll never forget the blow delivered upon hearing of his death. I was vacationing on Block Island when it happened, and I kept thinking it was all a big scam or prank when I first heard. If only. But we’ll always have MJ’s music and his incredible short film work to remind us of his genius. Would “Captain EO” be anywhere near the delight it is without all the 3D and 4D “bells and whistles”? Most likely no. But it does have those things when seen in its proper setting, and the music is remarkable and LOUD. My kids have loved Michael Jackson songs in the car and at home for years now, and it was wonderful to share the “Captain EO” experience with them in Orlando just days ago. And they watched the iconic Michael: young, beautiful, with minimal plastic surgery at that time, and in his physical prime at just 27-years old. If we could turn back time. But they loved “Captain EO”. I loved “Captain EO” for the 2nd time. And you can catch up with it yourself at Epcot until at least January of 2014.     Grade: a sentimental and nostalgia-heavy B+

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2 comments on “Flashback: on 1986’s Captain EO

  1. I have known about Captain EO for many years, but have never seen it. I am glad you and your family had a nice time at Disney World. I think it is awesome that you got to see Jackson perform live back in 1984, I never had the pleasure.

  2. Robbin, It’s available to watch on Youtube—but I wouldn’t recommend seeing it that way. We did have a nice time, thank you—but it’s exhausting there. Btw, MJ will always be 2nd to Prince(my absolute favorite—I’ve seen him in concert 4 times), but The Jacksons “Victory” tour was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Michael wrote in his autobiography about the promotion being fraught with issues—but none of that was apparent on stage. What a show! ML

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