‘EO’ Preview Wows Audience at Disneyland

Times Staff Writer

Singer Michael Jackson, film makers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola and dozens of movie, television and music industry celebrities helped turn Disneyland into Hollywoodland for an afternoon at Saturday’s preview of the park’s new multimillion dollar “Captain EO” attraction.

Thousands of visitors to the park struggled behind restraining ropes for glimpses of the celebrities who attended the private screening of “Captain EO,” the 3-D musical space fantasy film starring Jackson, which opens to the public on Friday.

Jackson did not appear at Saturday’s brief ribbon-cutting ceremony, although Walt Disney Co. chairman Michael Eisner drew an excited cheer from the crowd when he said the superstar singer was in the park disguised “as an old lady, an usher or an animatronics character.”


Two Jacksons Appear

Two other singing Jacksons made an appearance: Michael’s sister Janet and their cousin LaToya Jackson.

Coppola, Lucas and “Captain EO” co-star Anjelica Huston jointly cut the ceremonial ribbon to open the most expensive attraction in Disneyland history, with a cost estimated at $20 million. Accompanying Huston was actor Jack Nicholson, who set numerous cameras flashing when he appeared outside the 700-seat Magic Eye Theater built in Tomorrowland for “Captain EO.”

Some 2,000 people attended the invitation-only preview that was recorded for an NBC-TV special on “Captain EO” scheduled to air next Saturday. Hundreds of guests squashed shoulder-to-shoulder trying to watch the ceremony, which was delayed nearly 30 minutes by what Eisner fleetingly referred to as “a slight transformer problem.”

After the ribbon was cut, the next crush was among those jockeying to be the first into the theater. “Captain EO” was screened several times to accommodate all the guests. (The attraction’s counterpart at Walt Disney World in Florida previewed simultaneously.)

Applause From Audience

During one of several preview screenings, the audience “ooh-ed,” “aah-ed” and broke into applause several times at the numerous elaborate special effects, costumes and intricate sets.

“Captain EO” incorporates two original Michael Jackson songs into its plot in which Jackson pilots a spaceship to a hostile alien world presided over by an evil queen, played by Huston. Jackson and his hapless crew, including animal and robot characters such as Hooter, Fuzzball and Major Domo, win the aliens over to the side of peace through music and dance.

Exiting the 17-minute attraction, audience members praised the film with one-word descriptions like “brilliant,” “outstanding” and “genius.”

Because of all the high-powered talent involved in the making of the 17-minute film, one visitor joked that “the screen credits probably take up 10 minutes.” (There are no screen credits, although audiences waiting to get into “Captain EO” are shown a video program of Lucas, Coppola and Jackson during the making of the film.)

Eisner said Disney officials expect “Captain EO” to surpass attendance for the popular 3-D film “Magic Journeys,” which he said has drawn more than 25 million visitors at Walt Disney World.

Most of the principals were unavailable for interviews, but producer Rusty Lemorande said, “Originally we all thought ‘Great, we’ll do a 12-minute film, shoot it and have a lot of fun.’ Nobody knew the nightmares and the delays we would encounter. I don’t think any of us would have done it if we had known.

“It’s probably legend that the process of film is one where you expect compromise and disappointment when you start out with lofty goals,” Lemorande said. “That is all amplified by something of this nature, which is experimental.

“But as much as Michael, George and Francis are known as innovators, the technology of this kept them more like happy children in a playground. It reduced us all to a common denominator and helped avoid the ego problems.”