Captain EO has been a Disney park staple since 1986, the height of Michael Jackson’s post-Thriller fame—but the Francis Ford Coppola-directed, George Lucas-produced short will shut down December 6 to make way for new attractions. A new oral history sheds light on all the making-of drama.
It’s definitely worth taking the time to read the entire piece at Yahoo Movies. Though it ran only 17 minutes, Captain EO was a big-budget, groundbreaking special effects showcase, and it attracted all kinds of top talent of the era ... some of whom inevitably butted heads. There’s also all kinds of fun tidbits, like how Lucas (coming off a break from showbiz after Return of the Jedi) wanted the production design to have a “used future” look, like Star Wars did, and how co-star Anjelica Huston had a dream before she was cast that she’d work with Michael Jackson.
Speaking of Jackson, most folks agreed that he was shy and childlike when he was offstage, but became a different person once he started singing and dancing. Sounds about right. But there are a few surprising revelations about how Disney reacted to Jackson’s performance, as relayed by EO cinematographer Peter Anderson:
Michael had a propensity to do his crotch-grabs. It was kind of unheard of back then, and this was Disney. I was told to crop the upper torso or go for a tighter shot or something like that, [but] they were part of his routine. So it wasn’t like [he was only] occasionally doing it. It was on his beat. Disney started cutting [the film] together and saying, “Oh dear, oh dear.”
... [Michael also] had a rather high-pitched voice. People weren’t used to hearing him talk — they were used to hearing him sing. The studio was trying to figure out how to modulate or replace his voice for the talking scenes. There were groups of people at Imagineering and some at the studio that were afraid that that would make [EO] feel too comedic. There was some playing around with [the idea of] changing the octave. There was even a discussion about doing voice replacement for him… There was a whole thing going on in the background of, “How do we do it and not offend him?” And I remember sitting there and saying, “You’re actually going to change Michael’s voice?” They desperately wanted to, but no one had the guts to approach him on it.
Again, this was the mid-1980s, and Jackson was a huge, huge, mega-mega star. One wonders: how could Disney not have known about his voice, or his fondness for crotch-grabs?
Farewell, Captain EO—greeted with raised eyebrows by critics (and, apparently, studio execs), but beloved by fans for decades. And there’s always a chance it will come back; the attraction originally closed in 1996, but returned in 2010 as a Jackson tribute.