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There’s Always Tomorrow … land

12/23/2010

I love many things about Disneyland. The pristine streets at park opening. “The Unbirthday Song” playing non-stop while Fantasyland teacups whirl. The cavernous, damp escape into Pirates of the Caribbean. Walking in the park at night. And corn dogs.

But there’s one thing that’s been a hard sell: Tomorrowland. For me, Tomorrowland has always been a drive-by zone, a place you cut through to get somewhere, but nowhere you actually wanted to be. The worst thing about the place was the smell, a repulsive blend of gas fumes from the inexplicably popular Autopia track mixed with greasy vapors wafting from Red Rockett’s Pizza Port, possibly the worst eatery option in the entire Disneyland Resort. Throw in loud music, a chaotic layout, and—at its low—the most outdated attractions in the park, and Tomorrowland was basically a big, smelly gauntlet separating Space Mountain from all of the good stuff.

And before I get lots of hate mail, let me add that I would still rather spend a day in Tomorrowland than in countless other places. Space Mountain is my favorite ride, I love the Astro Orbiter as a piece of giant retro-futuristic sculpture, and I wish I’d seen the old Mary Blair tile murals before they were replaced.

I criticize because I care.

Ever so slowly over the last ten years, Tomorrowland has improved. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters added a fun shooting-game experience to the park, a transplant from Walt Disney World and the precursor to California Adventure’s more elaborate Toy Story-themed arcade. The transformation of the dead 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lagoon into the new Finding Nemo ride not only pleased those yearning for a rebirth of the old submarine adventure but also introduced another A-list film into the Disneyland experience. And now, the aging Star Tours is currently undergoing a big refurb—just pray that it’s not being revamped as a pod race or a tribute to Jar Jar Binks.

But the creakiest thing about Tomorrowland was the supremely outdated 3D movie Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. Sure, I remember seeing it those many years ago and thinking it was cool. But a decade later, its fuzzy resolution and boo-moment visuals paled next to any other 3D experience at Disneyland or elsewhere (T2 3D at Universal is still the best; more on that with my post on Universal, later). For years, I’ve been passing that theater, just hoping for a better replacement.

Now my wish has been granted, and granted in such a splendiferous way that I cannot sing its praises high enough. I walked into the theater blind, knowing only the title of the film that I was about to see and the name of its world-famous star. Ironically, that replacement comes not from “the future,” but from the past. 1986, to be precise.

The film: Captain EO
The star: Michael Jackson
The experience: Priceless

Captain EO Poster

It’s a rare film that lives up to the “so bad it’s good” title, but Captain Eo is such a film. I can say without reservation that it is the most enjoyably campy film I have ever seen in my life. And I’ve see a lot of movies. My friend was doubled over in her seat, laughing at the unexpectedly entertaining spectacle before us. I, on the other hand, was silent, mouth agape. And when I say “mouth agape,” I am not exaggerating. I spend most of the 17-minute duration gasping at what I saw.

Captain EO begins like a goofy Star Wars rip-off about a ragtag group of rebels charged with vanquishing an intergalactic tyrant. I immediately thought of Battle Beyond the Stars in terms of its initial camp factor. There’s an array of silly supporting characters, both of the furry Muppet type and the metallic sort. At this point, I remembered that George Lucas wrote the script, and I figured I was in for a moderately amusing and kid-friendly romp.

Then Captain EO (Jackson) appeared, taking the whole production to a different level. With his completely unthreatening falsetto, Jackson leads his little party to the villain’s deep-space hideout and proceeds to—not kidding—save the universe through the transfoming powers of song.

This is where the movie shifts from Star Wars to something scarier, in several ways. First, the evil Supreme Leader (Anjelica Huston!) is nine parts Borg Queen and one part Nosferatu, by way of H. R. Giger. For about five seconds, I was frightened. (To the movie’s credit, it pre-dates the Borg debut by at least a year.)

And then Captain EO begins to sing, zapping the enemy’s minions with his musical powers and thus transforming them into spandex-clad back-up dancers. Did I mention this movie is in 3D? And the theater includes vibrating seats? Seats that move to the groove and thump with Michael’s every grab of the crotch? Well now I have.

This is probably a good time to insert a picture because no matter how I describe the vinyl-thong spacesuits and giant ’80s hair, you can only truly appreciate this sci-fi take on Michael’s Thriller-era style by seeing a photo.

Saving the Universe

It gets better.

So Captain EO dances around, converting the bad guys to the horror of their evil mistress. Eventually, of course, EO builds up enough musical power to zap the Supreme Leader herself, at which point she morphs out of her Harkonnen-like tubing into a glamorous, Greco-Roman goddess. Oh, look, it’s Anjelica Huston. And how did she get roped into this?

Did I mention that Francis Ford Coppola directed this film? He also shares a screenplay credit. No wonder this movie’s so good. It’s got quite the pedigree.

There’s a great quote on Wikipedia about the budget. I have no idea if it’s true, but it says: “… the seventeen-minute film [cost] an estimated $30 million to produce. At the time, it was the most expensive film ever produced on a per-minute basis, averaging out at $1.76 million per minute.”

There is also, of course, an official fan site. Had I known more about Captain EO before this year’s Disney trip, I might have dug into the fan site deeper. And I have to say that I’m really glad I didn’t. If I had read up too much or watched the movie ahead of time, the surprise factor would have been ruined.

I had to blog about this because I enjoyed it so much and wanted to spread the gospel of Captain EO, but I’m not going to post any YouTube links. If you want to hunt it up, go ahead. You won’t be disappointed. There are even some 3D HD YouTube postings, if you have glasses at home.

But if you have a Disneyland (or World) trip on your horizon, I suggest you resist the temptation to preview the movie and just wait for the glorious theatrical experience. Not only was EO the best camp classic ever, it was the highlight of my entire trip.

Tomorrowland just got better. Now bring back the PeopleMover.

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From → Disneyland, Travel

2 Comments
  1. nudgebug permalink

    There are absolutely no words to describe the perfection that is Captain EO, attending because we felt we must turned out to be the surprise highlight of the trip. I could watch MJ in all of his Captain EO 1980’s crotch grabbing glory again and again. The final scene where he dances his way out is glorious.
    Mary is being too kind, I nearly peed my pants when the “show” really started and it is true she sat there with her mouth agape – I have never see her like that. I am glad I went into the experience with no preconceived notions or thoughts and enjoyed every second of it.

    Thank you Francis Ford Coppola and thank you MJ for your brilliance and insanity!

  2. marykc permalink

    I forgot to mention the dance-out. That was classic.

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