Today in Disney History, 1986: Captain EO Opens at EPCOT

Britta StephensBlog, News

Captain EO Opening Date

Captain EO debuted on this day, September 12th, 1986 in EPCOT (the year yours truly was born). 

For the young’uns or Disney newbies in the house, Captain EO was a 3D experience that combined Disney magic with star-power.

Starring the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, written by Star Wars creator George Lucas and directed by the one and only Francis Ford Coppola, Captain EO became somewhat of a cult classic within and outside of the parks. 

Quite the Pedigree

It’s no secret that Michael Jackson loved Disney. “Jackson was a huge fan of our parks, sometimes visiting several times a month, in and out of disguise,” said Michael Eisner, then-CEO of the Walt Disney Company. “He knows more about Walt Disney than anybody who ever existed. He certainly knows more than I do.”

Captain EO was not simply a short film from the minds of Lucas (pre-Lucas Films’ Disney marriage) and Coppola, but the story was co-written by Walt Disney Imagineering. Along with Jeff Hornaday, Michael Jackson himself choreographed this performatively stunning piece of Disney history, which is no shock to us! 

The movie cost 30 million dollars to produce, which made it per-minute, the most expensive film ever made at the time, clocking in at $1.76 million a minute!

A brilliant storyteller through music, lyric, and dance, Michael wrote both feature songs, “We Are Here to Change the World” and “Another Part of Me.” Both songs reach deep into the soul of Jackson as both a human and creator and the latter has major Man in the Mirror vibes. Literally all the feels. 

Life After Death

Captain EO 1986

Captain EO and his magical musical powers will never die.

Captain EO closed in 1998 and was soon replaced by Honey I Shrunk the Audience, for which the theater received some 4D upgrades. After the death of Michael Jackson, Captain EO Tribute opened from 2010-2015.

What is the difference in 3D and 4D you may ask? 3D is an image that has the focus of visual effect, just as 4D does, however, 4D adds a tangible element to the experience, synchronized to the film. The original Captain EO included lasers, smoke, and a starfield effect. 

The 2010 version lacked the smoke and laser effects of the original version, but added new effects leftover from Honey I Shrunk the Audience. This added a new element for audiences who had seen the movie before.

New Effects Included:

  • Water spraying when Hooter sneezed
  • Hydraulic seats that moved to ship rumbles, action sequences, and even along to Jackson’s songs
  • Leg ticklers that responded to the Whip Warrior batter scene

The Captain EO Tribute also featured a pre-show film that showed exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Captain EO.

While MTV did air Captain EO in 1996, no officially licensed video has ever been released for purchase or download. Bootleg copies exist, but Jackson’s legacy, along with Coppola and Lucas’ vision, remain in the Disney vault, so to speak, tucked away in the safekeeping of Disney fans’ memories and nostalgia bubble. 

The Adventures of Captain EO

Captain EO Puppets

Captain EO’s ragtag crew are actually pretty helpful.

Regarded as one of the first-ever 4D films, Captain EO plays out like an even delightfully quirkier Guardians of the Galaxy. It stars Anjelica Huston as the Supreme leader; Dick Shawn as EO’s boss, Commander Bog; and of course the King of Pop as Captain EO (Coppola came up with the name from the Greek “Eos,” meaning “goddess of dawn”). 

The story itself is about our Captain EO and his group of ragtag crewmates on their way to deliver a gift to the Supreme Leader. As you might expect from both Disney and Lucasfilm, the story is a conflict between the gloom (the Supreme Leader’s world) and fun (Captain EO). 

On his way to deliver his gift, which is kept secret from the audience until the grand performance (if you haven’t already guessed what it is), we learn more about the Captain’s crew. 

Captain EO’s Crew:

  • Hooter
  • Fuzzbucket (A.K.A Fuzzball)
  • Idee and Odee (the Geex)

Let’s say it all together: “Hooter!”

The Supreme Leader quickly captures Captain EO when he approaches and it’s up to our Captain to win her over through (you guessed it) song! 

Captain EO Stop Animation Scene

The stop animation scene sees our crew members turning up the music.

A stop-animation sequence sees Captain EO’s goofy group assembling to create an impromptu band (if Hooter can just get the wires uncrossed!) and the crew is soon winning over the Supreme Leader’s minions.

In the end, Captain EO shares a message of love with the Supreme Leader and we see her transform into Anjelica Huston, decked out like the queen she is. Everyone loves a surprise visit from Anjelica Huston.

Captain EO Angelica Huston

Before and after coffee.

Her kingdom is at peace, and Captian EO and his crew dance their way back onto the ship. Mission accomplished.

A Moment in Time

It is classic Disney, and the story will draw you into an incredible world that only the partnership between Disney, George Lucas, and Michael Jackson could create.

Disney knows how to take advantage of a moment in time, enlist the biggest and brightest creators of all time, all while honoring legendary music both during life and after death. 

The music of Michael Jackson combined with a bonafide space opera—it’s something only an innovative park such as EPCOT and a dazzling bizarre creator such as Coppola could pull off. 

You can still find the occasional Captain EO merch, like pins, in the Disney Parks. Thanks, Disney, for the fun, out-of-this-world memories of Captain EO!

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About the Author

Britta Stephens

Britta Stephens is a contributing writer for WDW Magazine, Disney blogger, hairstylist, and dog mom x2. The first book she ever read was Hans Christan Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and she's been a fan of Disney endings ever since. When she’s not fostering kittens, she can be found reading literature from a dog’s perspective and singing the opening of The Lion King to her greenhouse plants.