Photo of Captain EO sign

Captain EO
Presented by Kodak






Supreme Leader:
“You think me
Captain EO:
“Very beautiful
your highness,
but without a key
to unlock it...
and that is my
gift to you.”

Get ready to experience the singing, dancing, and song-writing talents of Michael Jackson, in a spectacular, 70-millimeter, 3D space adventure.

Captain EO and Star Tours pylons
Go left for Captain EO. Go right for the thrill ride.

You might have to wait a while. There’s only one theater, and it only has around 500 seats. The show lasts 17 minutes, and it takes several minutes to reload the audience between the shows.

Captain EO turnstiles
The queue for this popular attraction can start by Mission to Mars.

It’s worth the wait if you’re a Michael Jackson fan... or if you’re a special effects fan. There are 150 special effects in the film, and a bunch of in-theater effects too.

Captain EO turnstiles
The pre-show awaits you on the other side of turnstiles.

Pick up your 3D glasses as you enter the Magic Eye Theater... but please don’t put them on until you’re seated.

The doors open. Please move all the way to the end of a row and take a seat. You may put on your 3D glasses now. (If you wear eyeglasses, don’t worry; the 3D glasses fit right over them.) If you don’t like really loud music and noises, this also might be a good time to put some cotton in your ears.

Sit back and watch Captain EO and his faithful, if unusual, crew—Hooter, Fuzzball, the Geex, Major Domo, and Minor Domo—as they prepare to land their little spaceship on an oppressed planet. Where’s the landing beacon? Don’t trip any alarms... Oops. The crew tripped the alarm. Oh no! There’s an enemy patrol ship. Still no landing beacon? How about a map? Hooter ate the map?

Crash! Too late—but there’s the landing beacon.

Oh, oh... Captain EO and his crew have been captured, taken to the wicked Supreme Leader (played by Anjelica Huston), and sentenced. “Justice” is swift and severe. Captain EO accepts his sentence, one hundred years of torture, with grace. He tells the Supreme Leader that he has brought her a gift, which she will see—and hear.

The music begins, and the battle begins. Lasers fire above your head. What is happening to the Supreme Leader’s troops? The power of music is transforming them. Look! Even the awful Supreme Leader is now a beautiful queen, and the planet looks great.

Photo of Captain EO exterior
Captain EO at night

Who said rock music is a bad thing? Captain EO just proved that rock music causes good to triumph over evil!

As you exit, please drop your 3D glasses in the receptacle.

It was 1984. Michael Jackson was at the height of his career. His 1982 album Thriller, already the best-selling album of all time, was still on the charts. In 1983, Jackson had debuted the moonwalk. His 1984 “Victory” tour played to sold-out stadiums. Michael Jackson wasn’t just a pop star. He was a cultural phenomenon.

Also in 1984, movie executives Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took over the top jobs at Disney. In addition to launching an aggressive slate of movie projects, Eisner and Wells sought to invigorate Disney’s theme parks. They brought their movie experience to the parks too. Traditionally, theme park attractions didn’t rely on star performers. That would now change.

In his 1998 book Work in Progress, Eisner explained:

The third idea we came up with for Disneyland was to create something with Michael Jackson, who appealed to teenagers, but also to young kids, and even their parents. Jackson was a huge fan of our parks, sometimes visiting several times a month, in and out of disguise. Our notion was to put him in an extended 3D music video. George Lucas happened to be one of Jackson’s heroes, and provided another lure. Ultimately, Lucas decided to produce the video and recruited Francis Ford Coppola to direct.

The result of this collaboration was Captain EO, which opened at Disneyland on September 18, 1986 (six days after it opened at EPCOT Center).

Captain EO poster, copyright Disney

At Disneyland, a new theater for Captain EO would replace the Space Stage.

Excerpt from 1983 Disneyland souvenir map
Excerpt from 1983 Disneyland souvenir map. The Space Stage was an outdoor theater.
Excerpt from 1987 Disneyland souvenir map
Excerpt from 1987 Disneyland souvenir map. How many differences can you find?

Although built for Captain EO, Disneyland’s Magic Eye Theater opened in May 1986 with the delightful Magic Journeys, the original 3D movie from Epcot’s Imagination pavilion. (Actually, Magic Journeys was no stranger to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, having enjoyed a previous run at the outdoor Space Stage.) In September of the same year, Captain EO moved into the Magic Eye Theater.

Most guests reacted favorably to Captain EO. A few newspaper articles were more critical.

Here’s a paragraph from Charles Solomon, writing in the Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1986:

For all its wondrous imagery, “Captain EO” is nothing more than the most elaborate rock video in history, like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, it’s a glorious surface over a void. No one expects an amusement-park diversion to be “Gone With the Wind,” but given that list of credits and the film’s lavish budget (rumored to be between $16 million-$20 million, although Disney refuses to release any figures), audiences have a right to expect more than empty flash.

Here’s a paragraph from the Chicago Tribune, September 18, 1986:

The movie thrusts its characters into danger immediately. They are flying into your face, lasers blasting, just as you learn their names. Within such a short time you can’t empathize with their plight. But the novelty of the 3D effect is enough to occupy you through the start, though the plot is overcomplicated for the time available.

Over years the crowds disappeared. Movie-based attractions tend to have less repeat appeal than rides. Michael Jackson’s star shined less brightly. After a run of over ten years at Disneyland, Captain EO closed quietly in April 1997.

Photo of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience
“Honey, I Replaced Captain EO

In May 1998, the former Magic Eye Theater became the West Coast home of the 3D movie Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which had already replaced Captain EO at Epcot in 1994.

At one time, Captain EO was showing at Disney parks in California, Florida, Japan, and France. The final place at which you could see Captain EO was at CinéMagique, presented by Kodak, in Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris. In late summer 1998, the Captain departed from Paris as well.

Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, at age 50. In the years leading up to his death, Jackson had been in the news for his behavior in public and allegations of what he might have done in private. But after his death, there was a renewed interest in his music. The King of Pop left behind an extensive catalog of Jackson 5 albums, solo albums, and compilations. His CD and music download sales soared. Apple’s iTunes named Michael Jackson the 2009 Artist of the Year.

Meanwhile, at Disneyland in 2009, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience had trouble filling seats, even on busy days. After it had played more than a decade in the Magic Eye Theater, few Disneyland guests were eager to see the aging 3D film based on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a largely forgotten movie from 1989.

This disparity of popularity was not lost on Disneyland management. In September 2009, the Magic Eye Theater was temporarily closed to the public for several days. Officially, the reason was to show Captain EO to Michael Jackson’s children. But it was also an opportunity to test the feasibility of bringing back Captain EO for a public run.

Captain EO Tribute sign in 2010 (with Kodak logo)
Captain EO Tribute sign in 2010 (with Kodak logo)
Captain EO Tribute sign in 2011 (after the end of Kodak’s sponsorship)
Captain EO Tribute sign in 2011 (after the end of Kodak’s sponsorship)

On December 18, 2009, the official Disney Parks Blog announced the news: “We are excited to confirm that the classic musical spectacular that thrilled Disneyland park guests from 1986-1997, will return for an exclusive, limited engagement at Disneyland park beginning in February 2010!”

Captain EO reopened at Disneyland on February 23, 2010.

top of Captain EO Tribute poster
It’s now Captain EO Tribute, not just Captain EO.

The 3D technology and special effects of Captain EO had been state-of-the-art in the 1980s, but now looked dated. The audiences of 2010 were accustomed to digital 3D at their local cinemas and complex CGI wizardry such as in James Cameron’s Avatar. In comparison, Captain EO was downright old-fashioned.

But what really mattered was Michael Jackson’s music and his performance. The audiences of 2010 could again see Michael Jackson at his best. And it was still 17 minutes of fun entertainment.

If Captain EO is back, why is this article still part of Yesterland? Well, technically Captain EO is not back. The current attraction at Disneyland is called Captain EO Tribute.

Captain EO poster in 2011
Captain EO poster at Disneyland in 2011

It was the same movie in the same theater, but the in-theater effects had changed. For Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, the Imagineers removed the lasers and installed a mechanism to allow the theater floor to move. So Captain EO Tribute no longer had the in-theater laser effects of Captain EO, but the theater floor became part of the show.

All indications are that Captain EO Tribute was a success, pulling in far more guests than Honey, I Shrunk the Audience in its later years.

Captain EO at Epcot in 2010
Captain EO at Epcot in 2010

Disneyland’s “exclusive, limited engagement” turned out not to be so exclusive. Captain EO reopened at Disneyland Paris on June 12, 2010; at Tokyo Disneyland on July 1, 2010; and at Epcot on July 2, 2010.

Captain EO at Epcot in 2010
Captain EO at Tokyo Disneyland in 2013

And Disneyland’s “exclusive, limited engagement” turned out not to be so limited either. By early 2014, rumors suggested that Tomorrowland would get a spaceport makeover. Maybe Captain EO would make a graceful exit after its encore run to make way for something state-of-the-art based on Star Wars.

Or maybe not.

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© 1997-2017 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated March 17, 2017.

Photograph of Magic Eye Theater sign: 1996 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Captain EO and Space Mountain pylons: 1995 by Chris Bales.
Photograph of Mission to Mars with Captain EO sign: 1991 by Chris Bales.
Photograph of Magic Eye Theater exterior at night: 1997 by Werner Weiss.
Captain EO poster: Copyright The Walt Disney Company), and is included here for historical illustration.
Scanned image of a small section of the 1983 Disneyland souvenir map: Copyright 1983 Walt Disney Productions (now The Walt Disney Company), and is included here for historical illustration.
Scanned image of a small section of the 1987 Disneyland souvenir map: Copyright 1987 The Walt Disney Company, and is included here for historical illustration.
Photograph of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience: 2006 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Captain EO Tribute sign: 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Captain EO Tribute sign: 2011 by Tad.
Photograph of top portion of Captain EO Tribute poster: 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Captain EO Tribute poster: 2011 by Tad.
Photograph of Captain EO Tribute at Epcot: 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Captain EO Tribute at Tokyo Disneyland: 2013 by Robert Parker.