1986 was a good year for The Walt Disney Company if no-one else. New company president Michael Eisner wanted to revitalize the company's flagging animation and theme park divisions, while George Lucas was still riding high on the success of the Star Wars trilogy and Michael Jackson was the biggest star of The '80s period. So three entertainment giants, plus director Francis Ford Coppola, teamed up in order to capitalize on one another's successes, and created the 17-minute 3-D Movie Captain EO for exclusive release at the Disney Theme Parks.
Jackson portrays the eponymous captain, leader of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits including the robotic security officer Major Domo, robot buddy Minor Domo, hairy two-headed navigator(s) Idee and Odee, elephantine slob Hooter, and Fuzzball, a flying... thing... resembling a cross between a rat, a monkey, and a butterfly. The bumbling crew is just one mistake away from being drummed out of their (unspecified) organization, so for some reason they have been assigned a diplomatic mission of the utmost importance: delivering a goodwill gift to the Supreme Leader (Anjelica Huston, who won an Oscar for Prizzi's Honor not long before this premiered) of a dismal planet. Upon landing, they are captured and dragged before the Borg Queen-esque Supreme Leader, who orders EO imprisoned and tortured for the intrusion. At the last second, he and the crew manage to produce the gift... a song and dance performance that literally changes the world.
The film played at Disneyland and EPCOT Center from 1986 until the mid-Nineties, when it was replaced by Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. The overseas parks took a little longer to get it, but it did successfully run at the Tokyo and Paris complexes. While allegations of child abuse had begun to taint Jackson's reputation by the time it closed in the U.S., it was more advances in theme park technology and the march of time (style-wise) that led it to be put to pasture. However, with the singer's death — and children of The '80s reaching an age to be nostalgic about their childhoods — Captain EO returned to Disneyland (as "Captain EO Tribute"), Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Epcot as well, making it one of the very few Disney Theme Parks attractions to replace the attraction that replaced it initially. However, it was phased out once again, with the last screening at Epcot taking place on December 6, 2015.
By the by... George Lucas collaborating with a notable filmmaker and an internationally-renowned musician on a creature-filled fantasy project... bet he couldn't do that twice in one year, or could he?
Captain EO provides example of the following tropes:
- Aerial Canyon Chase: They have one that invokes the Death Star scenes in A New Hope.
- Beautiful All Along: It's Anjelica Huston. How could she be anything else after EO works his powers on her?
- Beauty Equals Goodness: As far as the human(oid) characters go, this is an extreme take on the trope — once the ugly troops are zapped with EO's rays and turn into attractive backup dancers, they pull an immediate Heel–Face Turn!
- Big Eater: Hooter
- Camp: At least in retrospect. At the time, those costumes and hairdos were considered very stylish.
- The Captain: EO himself.
- City Planet: The Supreme Leader seems to live on one until EO's Genesis Effect at the end .
- Close on Title: The short eschews an opening title in favor of a starfield, a floating rock effect, and an Opening Monologue. Instead, the last big 3D effect in the film is the title spinning out of a starfield.
- Cryptic Background Reference: Apparently, the Captain and his crew really made a "mess" of their previous mission, and they have to pull this one off to avoid being "drummed out of the corps."
- Crystal Spires and Togas: The state of the Supreme Leader's planet after EO works his magic.
- Disco Tech: Look at the way those backup dancers are dressed.
- '80s Hair: Another one of Captain EO's boundless gifts: bald, lifeless cyborgs are turned into mulleted dancers straight out of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (no, really).
- Elite Mooks: Once the Queen sees Captain EO change her guards, she sends in scary robots with electric whips. They prove to be quite tricky until Fuzzball gets the idea to tie their whips together, allowing EO to convert them to his side.
- Everything's Better with Rainbows: Captain EO has the power to generate rainbows that literally make everything better.
- Extreme Omnivore: Hooter. He ate the map!
- False Reassurance: At the start of the film, EO tries to assure his crew that they're "the best", and that they shouldn't let their recent losses get them down, but quietly admits that they'll all likely be fired if they screw up their next mission.
- Femme Fatalons: In 3D and right in your face.
- Genesis Effect: EO does on in the planet at the end to make it less gritty.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: The Supreme Leader; she was often referred to as the "Witch-Queen" in promotional materials.
- Huge Holographic Head: Commander Bog
- Incoming Ham: SILENCE!... INFIDELS!
- Large Ham
- The Supreme Leader doesn't speak a single line without hissing it while Milking the Giant Cow.
- Commander Bog, on the other side of the moral line, manages to ham it up without anything below the collar.
- Even Captain EO himself.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: During the finale, Fuzzball flies out towards at the audience and says "Bye-bye" before rejoining the others.
- Lightning Lash: The aptly-named Whip Warriors fight with electric whips.
- The Load: Hooter. He eats the map that the crew needed to navigate the Supreme Leader's planet, and was too short to reach an important button during a battle sequence. During the crew's audience with the Supreme Leader, he knocks over musical equipment during sensitive negotiations and nearly gets the crew killed.
- A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...: Earth is never mentioned.
- Meaningful Name: EO is so named to evoke the Greek root word meaning "dawn".
- Milking the Giant Cow: Clack-clack-clack go the Queen's claws.
- Opening Monologue: Used to set up the premise.
- Paddleball Shot: Quite a few — a floating space rock, space battle debris, the Supreme Leader's claws, spears, a descending gate, etc. Also, Fuzzball flies out at the audience and lingers there for a few moments before heading back, twice.
- Parrot Pet Position: When Fuzzball isn't flying, he's usually sitting on EO's shoulder.
- The Power of Rock: Channeled into beams of light that Captain EO fires out of his hands.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The opening narration refers to them as "A rag-tag band lead by the infamous Captain EO."
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Fuzzball.
- Space Opera: While less than 20 minutes long, it hits a huge amount of this genre's tropes!
- Summon Backup Dancers: A subversion; rather than the dancers coming out of nowhere, EO transmutes the evil Mecha-Mooks into this.
- Tagline: "We are here to change the world."