Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wearing Those Funny Glasses: 3-D Movies at the WDW Parks

If you’ve been to WDW recently (at least since 1983), there’s a very good chance that you have taken time to check out a 3-D movie during your visit in the parks. The movies that play in the parks now take audiences on different excursions that all started with some flights of fancy.

“But, why since 1983?” you ask. Well, that was the year that the Kodak sponsored Journey Into Imagination attraction opened in EPCOT’s Futureworld. Attached to the show building is the Magic Eye Theater where Guests would get the first chance to experience a new way of watching 3-D movies using glasses with polarized lenses instead of one red lens and one blue.

A brief aside about polarized lenses: the polarizing is due to lots and lots of microscopic “slats” similar to Venetian window blinds. On one side, these slats go side to side and on the other, they go up and down. The way the movie is filmed and then viewed through these glasses the process creates a cleaner 3-D effect than the red/blue version of old. It’s the same process that 3-D movies released today use in your neighborhood theaters.

The first movie presented in this updated 3-D format at EPCOT was called, appropriately, Magic Journeys. In Magic Journeys we follow a boy and his friends through a series of vignettes of different day dream-like sequences ranging from being at the circus, playing in fields of milkweeds, to floating in space. As a first look at the new filming process, Magic Journeys made quite a good showing.

Then the next level came when it was time to ramp up the entertainment quotient. In the same theater where Magic Journeys debuted a new film called Captain EO began delighting audiences in 1986. This new movie brought together Kodak, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Michael Jackson among other stars for a project that not only made use of this 3-D filming technology but also gave us a rollicking science-fiction movie cum extended music video. To make room for Captain EO, Magic Journeys was transplanted to the Magic Kingdom. It was set up in the space where the Mickey Mouse Revue had been in Fantasyland. After a few more years there, Magic Journeys was replaced with a Lion King based show. I do not know if Magic Journeys has been seen in any other capacity since then.

Each time I caught Captain EO (and, to be honest, I always made time to see it) the audience always gave an enthusiastic response from the “Ooooo” of the opening sequence with the starfield to the rousing applause when the film concludes when our misfit band of heroes saves the day. Unfortunately, a few years later, controversies in Michael Jackson’s personal life began coming to light and Disney opted to sever ties removing Captain EO from the parks.

Not ones to leave the space empty, Disney Imagineers developed a new 3-D show based on the family comedies Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Honey, I Blew Up the Baby. The theater had been augmented to include motion effects to be used in concert with the film making for a 4-D experience, if you will, called Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.

Now…we’ve only looked at the evolution of the 3-D movie attraction in one location within the parks. Along with Honey, I Shrunk the Audience there have been 3-D movie attractions brought to all the parks within WDW. DHS is home to Muppet Vision 3-D, Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life houses It’s Tough to be a Bug and the Magic Kingdom hosts Mickey’s PhilharMagic. We’re in a time now where we have a wide selection of 3-D visual entertainment in the parks from Muppets and their lab experiments and musical shows, shrinking down to see bugs up close and getting swept up in tow with Donald Duck as he bounces between musical segments from some of our favorite Disney animated movies.

The presentations have grown to where there are other elements used to enhance the viewing experience. The aforementioned motion effects used in Honey, I Shrunk the Audience is one. It’s Tough to be a Bug adds a “smellitzer” and effects that drop from the ceiling (note, this show does have the disclaimer that some effects and sequences may be too intense for younger children) as well as effects built in to the seating. The “smellitzer” is also used for Mickey’s PhilharMagic and other segments use soap bubbles and/or light sprays of water.

Disney showcased the new 3-D filming technology in EPCOT (a park partly developed to display technological innovation) to expose the public to the cinematic product. Over the years, they have developed enhancements (or, “plussed”) to create a more immersive experience for the Guests. This innovation is one of the values held in EPCOT and it has come to benefit movie-goers across the world as 3-D movies are coming out that have been filmed/processed using the polarizing technology. The Digital 3-D format has been married quite well to the polarized lens technique making it easier to produce new, and re-release older movies, in this format.

Yet Disney Imagineers are not resting on their laurels. No sirree. The 3-D movie technology has been adapted for use within its new attraction, Toy Story Midway Mania. In this application, Guests go from game to game wearing the 3-D glasses, and interacting with what they see on the screen. Definitely takes this 3-D technology down another path that could prove viable for arcade and potentially home video games.

Focusing back at the 3-D movie selections in WDW that can currently be viewed; if I were to rank them in order of preference for my own tastes (from “Have to see” to “I can pass”) I’d go with:

Mickey’s PhilharMagic (MK)
Muppet Vision 3-D (DHS)
It’s Tough to be a Bug (AK)
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (EPCOT)

Even though they are no longer available for viewing in the parks, I would have to add Captain EO and Magic Journeys to the list as I have fond memories of them. For me they would fall between Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Muppet Vision 3-D if not in a three-way tie with the Muppets.

Bear in mind that my rankings are not an absolute “This is the best” kind of gospel – as they say, “Your mileage may vary.” You may very well enjoy others more than I did and vice versa. So…if you haven’t already, give them each a shot. You may be surprised.



“Keep your imagination always moving toward the horizon.” - me


  1. This is a great post. Thanks for telling me about it. Our interests are very closely aligned and this was a nice trip down memory lane. I want a time machine so I can go back and visit WDW around 1986 again. Of course, I'd settle for a visit now too. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for peeping by, MK. Was my pleasure to share the link with you.

    As you are finding out, there are plenty of times where I wish I had a TARDIS for real...that way I can slip backwards showing everything off first-hand to Kev and others who missed some of the attractions in their respective hey-days.



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Teddy-bearish Atlanta resident from Florida. Enjoys Doctor Who, steampunk aesthetics, Dragon*Con, Disney theme parks, Universal Orlando theme parks, cheesy pizza and lots of other things...