We are living, somewhat incredibly, in a golden age of Disney documentaries. Thanks largely to the introduction of Disney’s own direct-to-consumer streaming platform Disney+, there have been a flood of nonfiction content from the company, ranging from exemplary features like Disneynature’s Dolphin Reef and Don Hahn’s touching Howard Ashman biography Howard to illuminating long-form content like the Frozen 2 making-of series Into the Unknown and Leslie Iwerk’s outstanding Imagineering Story. (There’s also a bunch of great vintage material on the platform, including The Pre-Opening Report from Disneyland and Walt Disney’s original nature documentaries, the True-Life Adventures.) But this summer’s wildest and weirdest Disney documentary is a feature-length YouTube video called Live from the Space Stage: A Halyx Story (it’s available right now). And if you have no idea what any of these words are doing together (much less a completely made up one, “Halyx”), get ready to be blown away.
As explained in this incredibly entertaining and thoughtful documentary, the Space Stage was an area adjacent to Space Mountain in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland section; it was a kind of open-air arena where live performances would be trotted out throughout the day and night, beginning in the late 1970s. But in the summer of 1981, a whole new experience graced the stage – Halyx, a sci-fi rock band that was clearly born in a corporate boardroom, one that liberally borrowed elements from Star Wars and KISS and packaged them for young summertime Disneyland visitors. How this rock band came to be – and what, exactly, they were doing on the Space Stage at Disneyland (later enclosed for the 3D performances of Michael Jackson’s Captain EO) – is fully explored in giddy, can-you-believe-this-actually-happened detail Live from the Space Stage (debuting on YouTube on Thursday, August 17).
There are a number of colorful characters at the center of Live from the Space Stage and the creation of Halyx, including (but not limited to) Disney Records executive Gary Krisel, writer and record producer Jymn Magon and Mike Post, the supernaturally gifted composer behind the theme music to Doogie Howser, M.D., The A-Team and Magnum P.I. (He also came up with the dun-dun for Law & Order.) Together, they concocted the general concept for Halyx, a very stupid name that was agreed upon after several less-stupid alternatives (including Starfire) – there would be a giant, towering furry bass player modeled after Chewbacca (his bass had a laser strapped to the end of it), a tiny, Yoda-ish frog man who jumped around and I guess played an instrument, and a combination Stormtrooper/droid character that played keyboard and wheeled out in a custom outfitted golf cart (complete with blinking lights and the like). There were also, predictably, several humans in the band, who belted out Heart-style power rock to the enraptured (and, to be sure, somewhat bewildered) crowds.
For those involved in the project (and most of the musicians are interviewed here) and the company at large, it was a pretty out-there concept, especially when you consider how conservative Disney was at the time. (We were still several years away from the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks days of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.) The stage was highly detailed and fully animated (the platform the drummer was on would lift off like a mini-UFO) and the characters, while absolutely ridiculous-looking (the Chewbacca character had the face of a cuddly panda and I’m not sure what was happening with the toad-man) were given elaborate backstories, their interpersonal relationships sketched in by their creators and brought to life by the performers on stage. Sure, they might have just been working class Los Angeles-area musicians looking for a regular gig, but they were fully committed to the characters and the admittedly bizarre conceit of what Halyx was supposed to be.
And what the band was supposed to be takes up a large portion of the running time of Live from the Space Stage, directed by Matthew Serrano (who directed one of my favorite shorter YouTube Disney docs about defunct EPCOT Center attraction Horizons) and produced and edited by Kevin Perjurer, of the unstoppable Defunctland channel. Obviously they were planned for something bigger, since few Disneyland live stage shows are original productions, and even fewer contain this level of conceptual pizzazz. I won’t spoil it here, but it is surprising and somewhat bittersweet.
Serrano, who turned his Horizons video into a surprisingly touching ode to lost friendship, similarly makes some bold choices in Live from the Space Stage that give it depth and power and there’s a moment towards the end that’s really very affecting and powerful. In an hour-and-a-half Serrano and his collaborators were able to explain what the hell Halyx was and invest enough emotionally that you’ll be absolutely heartbroken that nothing came of it.
In an era where every Disney stone has been overturned and thoroughly picked apart, Halyx is a truly lost piece of Disneyland history, one that was never really properly documented (there’s a reason they keep cutting back to the same grainy angle time and time again) or treasured (nearly every artifact has been destroyed or repurposed). In that way Live from the Space Stage: A Halyx Story feels like a revelation and a vital document, lovingly chronicling something that, while only in Disneyland for a short period of time, still had a profound impact on those who worked on the project, and those that saw the band live, in all of their yak-hair-embroidered, laser-flashing, fake-robot-and-frog-people glory. Get ready to rock.
Watch the full documentary below: