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When Disneyland Debuted His 3-D Movie Marvel, Michael Jackson Was in Another Dimension

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George Lucas was there because he is the executive producer. Francis Coppola was there because he is the director. But the star wasn’t there because, after all, he’s Michael Jackson. Although the premiere of Jackson’s sci-fi short, Captain EO, lured a slew of stars to an afternoon at Disneyland, the main attraction himself was mysteriously but predictably absent. After photographs of Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber had appeared earlier that week, some jokesters suggested that he was too tanked to show up.

Otherwise the celebrities acted as though they’d been invited to Wonderland instead of Tomorrowland. Even the usually reticent Debra Winger waved to the crowd from an antique car during the Main Street parade—but only after she found out that Jack Nicholson had done the same thing. Molly Ringwald wasn’t so easily persuaded: She was one of the few stars who refused to ride in the parade. Julie Harris—probably the most honored actress in the high-profile crowd—played autograph hound, approaching such stars as David Carradine and Teri Garr for their signatures. Although none of the Jackson clan crooned, Belinda Carlisle and Robert Palmer performed for the assemblage, which included Marilu Henner, Valerie Harper and Whoopi Goldberg. Sissy Spacek aimed an Instamatic as her daughter, Schuyler, 4, broke into a spontaneous dance with Pinocchio. When the presumptuous Pinocchio next tried to dance with Soleil Moon Frye, better known as Punky Brewster, she snubbed him, which put his nose out of joint. Poor Punky had already been the perpetrator of a fashion faux pas. The 10-year-old actress wore a gold silk jacket strikingly similar to the gold lamé version sported by Michele Lee, 44, although Punky set hers off with silver-studded, black motorcycle boots.

The party, however, was a mild summer outing compared to the whiz-bang 17-minute movie, which started showing exclusively at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last week. Filmed in 3-D, Captain EO costs an estimated million dollars a minute. A marriage of Star Wars cinematography and MTV choreography, EO casts the redoubtable Michael as a space voyager whose singing and dancing saves a forbidden planet from destruction.

Jackson composed and performs two new songs, We Are Here To Change the World and Another Part of Me. In the theater the effect is a light-and-sound show with smoke emanating from the screen, lasers slicing through the auditorium and 3-D tricks that include an asteroid popping off the screen. The film also introduces characters like Major Domo, a robot that metamorphoses into a set of drums, and Fuzzball, a winged space monkey that seems to fly out at the audience. Despite its splendid special effects, Captain EO can’t camouflage one salient anachronism. Because the movie was shot a year ago, it features Michael without the recently implanted cleft in his chin.

After the screening the guests were magically transformed from celebrities into critics as TV crews assaulted them for instant reviews. “It exceeded my expectations,” enthused Jane Fonda, who was seen earlier at a table for two with Pluto. “Everyone should see it,” raved the influential commentator Erik Estrada. Jack Nicholson, whose girlfriend, Anjelica Huston, co-stars with Jackson as the villainess, was cornered by a TV reporter. “What did you think?” she asked. Ever the articulate interviewee, Nicholson replied by simply staring her down and knocking his oversize Donald Duck hat against his knee. “Did you recognize Anjelica?” she asked. Knock, knock. While the cameras were recording those particular moments, Jackson sisters Janet and LaToya were slipping away from the theater unnoticed.

Since Michael Jackson has been known in the past to visit Disneyland wearing a surgical mask and sitting in a wheelchair, there was speculation that he might be mixing in the crowd incognito. In fact later reports circulated that Jackson was indeed there, dressed as one of the film’s supporting characters. Not so, declared Disney chairman Michael Eisner: “Michael Jackson is here, but he’s disguised either as an old lady, an usher or an animatronic character.” And possibly all three.