Move over, Mickey Mouse, and make room for Michael Jackson.
The pop giant, whose last album sold more than 30 million copies, is teaming up with Hollywood heavyweights George Lucas and Francis Coppola to film "Captain Eo," a costly 3-D musical space fantasy.
The science-fiction extravaganza will debut sometime in 1986 as a permanent new attraction at Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and at a new theater in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in Anaheim. Officials at Disney are expected to officially announce the project Thursday.
The 12-minute film will be directed by Coppola, whose most recent movie was "The Cotton Club." Lucas will be executive producer. Jackson will act and dance in the new short, which sources say will feature several new songs, written and produced by Jackson.
The elaborate musical fantasy, Jackson's first full-scale undertaking since his record-breaking 1982 "Thriller" album, is expected to play a pivotal role in strengthening the contemporary appeal of Disney's theme parks. Disney has already signed a pact with Lucas, who will incorporate many of his "Star Wars" characters into a series of redesigned rides and exhibits at the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland.
Jackson, a frequent visitor to the Disney amusement parks, has been at work on "Captain Eo" for many months, though the details of the project have been secret. The film has been shooting on five separate sound stages around the Southland over the past two weeks and is scheduled to complete production this weekend. It is expected to feature several new futuristic characters from the Lucas "Star Wars" pantheon.
'All of us at Walt Disney Productions are delighted that Michael Jackson, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola and an extraordinary group of film makers have joined together to create this pioneering motion picture event," said Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Productions.
A Disney spokesman would not comment on the estimated cost of the film, but a source close to the production said it is projected to cost between $10 million and $15 million. "You could say it will probably end up costing at least $1 million per each minute you'll see on screen," he said.
In addition to Coppola and Lucas, "Captain Eo's" Hollywood talent roster includes Oscar-winning makeup wizard Rick Baker (who did Jackson's "Thriller" video) and choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday, who handled the dance scenes in "Flashdance" and the upcoming film version of "A Chorus Line." Tony Award-winning set designer ("Cats," "Nicholas Nickleby") John Napier will design the interior of the theaters where "Captain Eo" will be shown.
Sources say that Disney has acquired exclusive rights to the film for a considerable period of time. Because of the advanced technology that is used, it is not known whether the short could later be exhibited in theaters or sold to pay TV or a home-video distribution system. Asked for details about the secret project, Norman Winter, Jackson's personal publicist, said he had "no comment about anything."