The Rise and Fall of Disney 3D Film Attractions

Disney Parks History

Supreme Leader Captain EO Disney Parks
Copyright Disney

Disney has had a wide variety of different types of attractions over the years but none have had as tumultuous of a history as 3D film attractions in the Disney Parks.

It all started with the film Magic Journeys, a film created for the opening of Epcot. It was created at the dawn of 3D technology, it was relatively tame by modern standards, showing the world from a child's view featuring music by the Sherman Brothers. It would be shown throughout the years at Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland, and the Magic Kingdom over its history.

It would be replaced in its original three locations by a new, much more elaborate 3D attraction, Captain EO.

This 3D musical film was directed by Francis Ford Copella and starred Michael Jackson as the title character. He was depicted as a Peter Pan-like character accompanied by a collection of misfits who traveled the universe freeing hostile planets.

It would be a massive success, coming to Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris, truely starting the trend of 4D films as full attractions of their own, not merely supplemental to other attractions.

This attraction would give way to other future 4D attractions in the Disney Parks.

Statler and Waldorf Animatronics Muppet Vision 3D Disney's Hollywood Studios

MuppetVision would premiere at Disney MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios) in 1991 and would be an opening day attraction at Disney California Adventure.

Captain EO itself that started the trend would close in each of its locations to be replaced by Honey I Shrunk The Audience in each of its locations around the world, a newer show that used updated technology.

Mickey's Philharmagic Exterior Fantasyland Magic Kingdom Disney World

Another classic 4D show would be developed, Mickey's Philharmagic, which would premiere initially at the Magic Kingdom, before eventually spreading to every Disney Resort around the world except for Shanghai, with the most recent version opening at the Disneyland Resort in 2019, replacing the string of temporary shows that had replaced MuppetVision.

Michael Jackson's death would in practice mark the beginning of the end for 4D Disney Park attractions. Every version of Honey I Shrunk The Audience would be converted back into Captain EO to honor the music icon, but after its extended limited time at each of the parks, a new permanent show would not be created.

In Tokyo, the show would be replaced by the much less elaborate Stitch Encounter.

In Paris, it would give way to a toned-down version of the Mickey's Philharmagic.

In Disneyland and Epcot it would be replaced by a series of movie previews and short film festivals, sometimes updated to 3D.

Today the only 3D films still in the parks are Mickey's Philharmagic and one version of MuppetVision 3D and there is no sign of any new films getting developed any time soon. Disney struggles with what to do with their remaining 3D theaters, either putting in preexisting shows or films into them just to not leave them empty.