When the decision was made to bring Captain Eo back to Disneyland, the smartest move was to name it ‘Captain Eo Tribute’. I’m sure George Lucas had a couple of meetings where he detailed his plans to update the visual effects with Computer Generated Imagery, remaster the sound and create a shiny new print that would utilize the Disney’s Digital 3D format. All of which would’ve been hopeless.
It’s completely impossible to take the existing footage and shake the 80’s off of it. Eo is hopelessly dated in that decade. More than Star Tours. More than the video for Thriller. So instead, Disney decided to embrace its time capsule quality. They didn’t change the effects, the score, or the technology. They didn’t even create a new print, which still bears scratches and dust specks that indicate its lack of a restoration. Even the preshow contains the kind of 80’s synth-pop back beat that could only come from 25 years ago.
Disney wears the retro quality like a badge of honor and the return of Captain Eo is the better for it. The preshow warms you up, so you’re all ready for the retro model work and stop motion animation. The 5 times I saw Captain Eo this week, there was only one moment of unintentional laughter. (After defeating the Whip Warriors Michael turns another fierce fighter into a dancer with a very dated faux-hawk.)
This was actually my first time ever watching Captain Eo, and I’ll be honest and say I was expecting to hate it. But I kept reminding myself I was also prepared to hate the Country Bear Jamboree and that’s one of my favorite Magic Kingdom attractions. I first saw the show from 6th Row Center, then 3 rows from the back. After that, I was in various places around the middle.
I guess I could be negative and harp about how out of date the attraction is, but I’m very sure Disney is aware of that, and they’re wise to be keeping the Tribute for only a limited time. So, I can enjoy it for what it is, although a part of me wonders how they kept Lucas from updating the effects that have become very dated. Also, as someone seeing this after the new Star Wars trilogy I see a lot of Jar Jar Binks in the character of Hooter, who I know is a favorite of many.
My final complaint is that the song, “We Are Here to Change The World” is terribly weak. I can’t help but wonder how much more popular the show would’ve been if it had a song on the level of his classic MTV video films.
The film is fast-moving and simple enough to hold up over multiple viewings. There’s also some nice 4-D lighting effects, my favorite being a pulsating green light in the theatre when the ship lands next to the homing beacon. I was much more aware and appreciative of these effects when I sat in the back of the theatre.
From what I understand, one of the newer effects is that the film uses the moving floor, developed for ‘Honey I Shrunk the Audience’. This comes into play when Eo’s ship makes a rough landing, and acts as a bass beat during the climactic song. I like the theatre bouncing up and down to the beat, but during one showing it was thumping out of sync and twice it didn’t thump at all.
Ultimately, the return of Captain Eo serves its main purpose, to act as a fitting tribute to the mega star that was Michael Jackson. At each showing, there was quite a bit of applause when Jackson first enters the film. His singing and dancing are superb as always and when he starts the big number with his trademark high-pitched “Whooo,” it sends waves of joy through the theatre. (I also got a big smile when he worked his moonwalk into the dancing.) I was skeptical of Disney’s decision to bring back Captain Eo, but I now totally see why this was a good idea… so long as it’s for a limited time only.