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The Grand Opening Of Captain EO

Sometimes when I post a video, I like to give lots of background and context, and talk about what you’re going to see. But sometimes the videos themselves are so goofybananas that I want to throw you in without any warning as to what’s coming. This is one of those.

On September 20th, 1986, Disney’s Captain EO Grand Opening aired to a rapt nationwide audience. I guess. Maybe not. Hosted by Patrick Duffy and Justine Bateman, it’s a star-studded salute to the then-new attraction Captain EO, which had just opened at Disneyland and Epcot Center. And, to be fair, unlike many of these specials the stars with which it is studded are actual stars. Sure, there are lots of super 1980s-era TV relics, and some incredibly dated “stars” of the era, but they also managed to rope in actors like Sissy Spacek, Anjelica Huston (the Supreme Leader herself), and even Jack Nicholson, who lurks around in the background unmentioned as Huston’s date. At the very least, this is the only Disney attraction opening to boast the presence of Charles Bronson and Yakov Smirnoff.

I actually need to restrain myself from rattling off the list of celebrity “appearances”, I’m so impressed with their scope and randomness. You expect your John Ritters, say, but Esther Williams?? For Captain EO? Alan Thicke, sure, but Elizabeth Montgomery? Why Tommy Chong but not Disney’s very own Cheechâ„¢? At least Annette is there to hold up the Disney end of things, and a very young pre-Full House John Stamos is on hand to profess his now-legendary Disneyland love. And, of course, there’s family favorite O.J. Simpson.

There are many other amazing things (I knew I couldn’t be able to refrain from comment). The acting on display between George Lucas and Michael Eisner is superb, as are the “lasers” they’re testing. I can’t imagine what they were thinking. There are at least two appearances of keytars in the musical numbers, which are about as 80s as you get. I still love that Belinda Carlisle, though, and apparently so do the Country Bears?

It all culminates with a sort-of-marching-band-dance-number-meets-parade-thing that takes place simultaneously on Main Street USA and in Tomorrowland, thanks to some highly dubious editing. A fellow who is Not Michael Jackson but who was in A Chorus Line (and who assisted in the choreography of some of Jackson’s videos) does an odd little music number and sings a brief musical tribute to Captain EO’s ragtag band before they appear in person on a magical space cloud. Yes, Hooter – live in person! And Major Domo! And… sigh… “The Geeks”. “The Geeks” gets said a lot in this special, way more than should ever happen in any TV show. Be sure to stick around after the official ribbon cutting for the bizarre reappearance of Not Michael Jackson, who emerges from another dimension to oddly kind of lipsynch a little inspirational tag.

All this insanity is in service of Captain EO, and we do actually get a little bit of behind-the-scenes footage which fans of the film might appreciate. EO marked the first Disney collaboration with George Lucas; while Star Tours had been conceived earlier, Captain EO had been greenlit to get something Lucas-related into the parks as soon as possible, without having to wait for the development cycle of a traditional ride attraction. The film’s development was troubled, since it basically began with the concept of “film Michael Jackson doing something” and went from there. As you probably know, it had an unexpected resurgence after Jackson’s death, when it returned to the parks as the “Captain EO Tribute”.

Incidentally, an unexpected bonus of this special is that it provides a few peeks at the shiny and exciting Disneyland Tomorrowland of this era. From the Skyway to the Astro Jets to that weird Space Mountain speedramp thing, there are several details lurking in the background.


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