Old is new again: 'Captain EO' back at Epcot

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Captain EO at Walt Disney World Epcot

"Captain EO," starring Michael Jackson, returns to Epcot on July 2, 2010. (WALT DISNEY CO. / February 18, 2010)

Walt Disney World continues its wave of nostalgia with the rebirth of Captain EO — a 3-D sci-fi movie featuring Michael Jackson and a crew of fuzzy space explorers — at Epcot.

The film, which ran at the theme park from 1986 to 1994, returns July 2 for a limited run, although Disney has not announced when it will stop the show. EO fans will see a familiar production through their special glasses.

"It's a 3-D film, 70 mm, two projectors. We are showing it the same way we showed in 1986," says Joe Tankersley, show producer.

"It's also one of the first '4-D' films, one of the first 3-D films with in-theater effects — wind, water and lighting," he says. "That's part of what makes it so special."

EO, with its bag of in-your-face tricks, led the way for other productions such as MuppetVision 3-D at Disney's Hollywood Studios and It's Tough to Be a Bug at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The new/old film will run in its original home at Epcot's Imagination Pavilion and temporarily replace the 3-D production that took the place of EO in the '90s, Honey I Shrunk the Audience.

This year, Disney already has presented a revival — with tweaks — of a fan favorite, the Main Street Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom. It's also toyed a bit with Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios. The new bits for Captain EO are mainly "4-D" effect involving the 570-seat theater's floor, which was altered when Honey moved in.

Disney World guests will start seeing EO a little more than a year after Jackson's unexpected death. The building did not require major modifications, mostly cosmetic painting and redecorating to get away from the Imagination Institute theming in the pre-show area.

"We had to take down all the wall graphics and re-do the wall graphics with EO," says Debbie Petersen, art director.

"We took out the carpet because it had Imagination logos," she says. "We just took all that out and brought in a really fun kind of retro, colorful carpet."

During the planning for the EO relaunch, someone from the maintenance team mentioned that the show's original marquees were still on Disney World property. After the last EO show in '94, maintenance had unbolted the signs and mounted them high on a wall in the maintenance area.

"I remember thinking they would be in some dusty, dirty closet with dust bunnies all over it," Petersen says. "They were in pristine condition."

They're a physical tie to the past.

"We were excited to have that little piece of history," she says. "It's something that none of the other EO shows have."

EO started playing again at Disneyland in February and is also playing at Disney parks in Tokyo and Paris.

Petersen worked at Epcot when EO replaced an original park show, Magical Journeys.

"When EO came, it was such a jump in technology," she says. "And just the experience with the music and everything tied together, it was so fun."

Disney expects that fun to return with the 17-minute film, which also stars Anjelica Huston as "the Supreme Leader."

"It's a classic show, it's really timeless. The humor still works," Tankersley says. "I think you are going to see a lot of people quoting those lines again."
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