The Vacation Kingdom of the World: It's a 3D World After Allby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Walt Disney was an innovator, so it naturally follows that the filmed experiences he brought to Disneyland were innovative as well. Through the years, the Imagineers have continued this tradition. From Circle-Vision 360 films to 3D attractions, the wizards of Glendale have continued to dazzle and delight. Join us for a journey that will take us from the first 3D film at EPCOT Center to the latest 3D adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
Please wait to wear your special glasses until the article begins, and remember: no eating, drinking, or flash photography.
Magic Journeys (1982-1986)
Disney's first attempt at theme park 3D films was designed as a companion piece to 1982's Journey Into Imagination. The attraction, located in the Magic Eye Theater, extended the themes of the audio-animatronic attraction. Figment and the Dreamfinder explored the workings of the imagination; the film presented images of the world though the eyes of a child.
Guests began their journey by picking up special purple 3D glasses at the entrance to the pavilion then stood for a preshow before entering the main theater. While cynics might condemn this preshow film as an extended plug for Kodak, the pavilion's original sponsor, it was highly entertaining. Accompanied by a wonderful, but sadly over-looked, Sherman Brothers song entitled "Makin' Memories," the film equated picture taking with memories. The images of typical family photos was clever and amusing, and for Disney fans, it featured many photos of families at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. "Makin' Memories" is on many of the earliest collections of songs from Disney Parks; dig through your collection of CDs to see if it is there. You'll be glad you did.
After the preshow, guests entered the theater for the main attraction. Developed with the Kodak Company, Magic Journeys featured convincing 3D effects that dazzled audiences with their clarity and depth. While the film lacked a traditional plot, it featured some truly lovely images. The opening scene, for example, showcases children running through a vast meadow, looking up as clouds float past, and eventually blowing on a dandelion. The seeds float into the audience before transforming into stars. Other scenes were equally visually compelling. A kite-flying expedition leads to imaginative transformations: kites turn into birds, fish, flying horses, and even a carousel. As the kids ride the newly materialized merry-go-round, they reach for the brass ring that spins above the audience. More transformations follow, some pretty (a huge moon) and some frightening (dark bats). The final scene takes place in a circus ring complete with lions, trapeze artists, clowns, and acrobats.
The film's fragmented structure was held together once again by a Sherman Brothers song, titled "Magic Journeys." It's a odd addition to the Sherman cannon, one of the only songs composed by the brothers that I typically skip when listening to old CDs. Still, its oddly structured tempo, multi-layered vocals, and eerie instrumentation capture the ethereal feeling of the film.
Magic Journeys remained at Epcot until 1986, when it moved to the Fantasyland theater that once featured the Mickey Mouse Revue. This theater now hosts Mickey's Philharmagic. Magic Journeys also ran in Tomorrowland at Disneyland from 1984 to 1986.
I have mixed feelings about this film. I remember being awed by the visuals, but more than a little uncomfortable about the clowns.
Captain EO (1986-1994; 2010-present)
In an attempt to prove that Disney was still "relevant" and "hip," Disney management decided to infuse the Disney parks with attractions to draw the teenage crowd. Videopolis at Disneyland and Captain EO at Disneyland and Epcot represent this desire to tap into pop culture.
Everyone knows, of course, that Captain EO combined the talents of George Lucas, Walt Disney Imagineering, Francis Ford Coppola, and Michael Jackson. There is more of a narrative arc in Captain EO than in Magic Journeys, and the 3D was expanded to what is now referred to as 4D, which includes special effects built into the theater. The story focuses on a "ragtag group of heroes" including Captain EO, Hooter, Minor Domo, Idey, Ody, and Fuzzball, who have been commissioned by Commander Bog to bring the gift of music to the evil Supreme Leader, a spider-like woman portrayed by Angelica Huston. Special effects, dance extravaganzas, lots of moonwalking, a couple of tunes written and performed by Michael Jackson, and a score written by the late James Horner tell the story of Captain EO and his crew as their music transforms and frees the inhabitants of the Supreme Leader's dismal planet. Eventually, EO's music even transforms the Supreme Leader herself into a beautiful goddess and her planet into a lush, green landscape. The two Jackson songs, "We Are here to Change the World" and "Another Part of Me" are good, there's no doubt about it, and even though the moonwalking scenes create unintentional laughing today, Jackson's star-power and dancing are magnetic.
When it first opened, this attraction was polarizing for many Disney theme park fans. Those who loved Michael Jackson obviously enjoyed it. Those who did not, stayed away. I suppose that in some ways, this attraction continues to be a polarizing one. Since the death of Michael Jackson, the sentimental appeal of watching this pop icon at the zenith of his career is thrilling, even for those who aren't among his more ardent fans. Still, all the mess of Jackson's later life, and the cheesiness and unintentionally funny "acting" in Captain EO, make this particular film difficult for some to sit through even today.
Muppet*Vision 3D (1991-present)
One of Jim Henson's very last projects, Muppet*Vision 3D, is a very special film. It pulls out all the stops, including an authentic looking Muppet Theater, audio-animatronic Muppets, a live actor appearing as a Muppet, and all sorts of special effects built into the theater itself.
The story involves an amiable Kermit inviting the audience on a tour of Muppet Labs. Along the way, we see Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker create Waldo, a 3D character, enjoy a musical number by Miss Piggy, suffer through some of Fozzie Bear's worst jokes, and experience Sam Eagle's musical salute "to all nations, but mostly America."
To record the jokes, puns, musical highlights, and visual delights of this particular film would take pages and pages of text. Suffice it to say, this Muppet production encapsulates all that audiences have come to love about the Muppets over the past fifty-odd years. It is a perennial favorite and an ever-fresh comedy that delights guests of all ages.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (1994-2010)
When Journey Into Imagination received its unfortunate "make-over" in 1994, this film replaced the original Magic Journeys. Inspired by the 1989 surprise hit Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, this film continued the "institute" concept of the new attraction with an awards show entitled "Inventor of the Year" hosted by Eric Idle reprising his role as the director of the Imagination Institute in Journey Into Your Imagination. The intrepid Wayne Szalinski is the recipient of the award and as expected, all sorts of things go wrong. Wayne arrives, miniaturized, on his latest invention, the Hoverpod, but drops the controls and loses control. Later, mice are mass-produced in a copy machine, and the entire audience is shrunk instead of the intended target—a typical load of luggage for a family of four. Giant snakes, a sneezing dog, a fainting wife, and a naughty child all join in the mayhem as the awards show continues.
The familiar actors, particularly the always dependable Rick Moranis and Marcia Strassman, are likable and endearing. The effects are decent as well, but for some reason, the whole awards ceremony and the endless parade of "things that go wrong" were tired almost from the film's 1994 premiere.
It's Tough to Be a Bug (1998-present)
This attraction features characters from the Disney-Pixar film A Bug's Life, and is located in the iconic Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Guests wind their way on paths around the base of the iconic tree before entering the pre-show holding area where they can enjoy show tunes performed by various bugs and view posters from bug-inspired Broadway musicals. Guests also receive their special "bug-eye" glasses and proceed into the main theater. Themed to an underground bug theater, the shape and size of this location are very similar to those of the Magic Eye Theater in Epcot.
Guests are greeted by an audio-animatronic Flik, the ant from A Bug's Life, who instructs them to put on their special glasses and invites them to learn about the insect world. Many of the presentations go badly, and guests endure an attack of acorns, a termite who sprays them with acid, and the delightful smell of a stink bug.
Hopper, the greedy, violent grasshopper from A Bug's Life, interrupts the presentation and vents his anger on the human race. A giant fly swatter, a can of bug spray, stinging hornets, black widow spiders, and a giant chameleon all terrorize the audience. The chameleon frightens Hopper, so Flik reappears with some of his big friends who entertain the audience with a few musical numbers and remind us to be kind to bugs.
This film is particularly scary, with lots of surprises in the darkened theater, but it is also a whole lot of fun. While it might not stand up to repeated viewings, lacking the verbal wit and the good music of Muppet-Vision 3D, It's Tough to be a Bug is a highly entertaining experience.
Mickey's Philharmagic (2005-present)
One of Disney's best 3D films, Mickey's Phiharmagic is performed inside the Fantasyland theater that once housed the Mickey Mouse Revue. Featuring classic Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, this is another "things go wrong" sort of story. However this time that idea works very well.
Goofy and Minnie Mouse, heard offstage, are preparing for Mickey's big concert. Donald is the stage manager in charge of setting up the orchestra. Donald ignores Mickey's instructions to leave his sorcerer's hat untouched, and as a result, the orchestra revolts and sends Donald spiraling through scenes from classic Disney films in a quest to retrieve the hat. Donald finds himself in the Beast's castle as Lumiere sings "Be Our Guest," in the cave of the mighty Sorcerer Yensid, under the sea in Ariel's grotto as she sings "Part of Your World," the African savanna as Simba sings "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," on Big Ben over the city of London with Peter Pan, and finally in the city of Agrabah as Aladdin and Jasmine sing "A Whole New World." Donald eventually returns to the theater stage where Mickey conducts the orchestra in a rousing version of the "Mickey Mouse Club March." Donald is catapulted from a tuba, over the audience, and into the wall at the rear of the theater.
It's difficult to capture the fun and creativity of this particular film with words. After all, Mickey's Philharmagic is projected on the world's largest 3D screen. Guests are surrounded by experiences—sweet smelling desserts, water from walking broomsticks, and wind from a storm just to name a few. Visiting this particular film always feels right; the films from which it draws are such a substantial part of our shared Disney heritage that it's good to spend some time with them here, in the heart of the Magic Kingdom.
Toy Story Mania (2008-present) and Star Tours – The Adventures Continue (2011-present)
The latest examples of 3D films at Walt Disney World aren't traditional film-going experiences. Instead, both Toy Story Mania and Star Tours – The Adventures Continue at Disney's Hollywood Studios use 3D technology to enhance a "ride" type attraction. In addition to the added depth and fun of 3D, the biggest advantage here is Disney's ability to change the experience so that guests never quite know which version of the ride they will experience. The popularity of these two attractions, here and at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, validate the use of 3D technology.