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Christopher O'Brien

Back in the Saddle Aginn
Staff member
Article HERE:
by Robbie Graham/Mysterious Universe

In 1995, an intriguing documentary was broadcast on TV stations across the United States. It was titled Alien Encounters from New Tomorrowland and supposedly was produced with the sole purpose of promoting Disneyworld’s then-new “ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter” attraction in Orlando, Florida.

Throughout the documentary’s forty-minute run-time, the presenter/narrator, Robert Urich, makes numerous declarative statements to the effect that UFOs are one-hundred-percent real and extraterrestrial in origin. Such statements include: “For nearly fifty years, officials have been documenting routine alien encounters here on earth,” “More than one alien craft crashed and was recovered for secret US military research,” and “Military and scientific leaders will soon release nearly a half-century of official documentation of ongoing alien encounters on earth.”

The majority of the documentary is focused on UFOs and extraterrestrials as a factual reality. The ‘ExtraTERRORestrial’ ride itself receives very little screen-time, and seems like an afterthought. The documentary was aired in only a handful of US cities at seemingly random times on selected dates in February and March 1995 with no notice—an incredibly odd marketing strategy considering its purpose was to promote a major theme park attraction for families.

Since its original limited broadcast in 1995, the Disney documentary has become engrained into conspiracy lore, or, perhaps more usefully, we could say that it has become entrenched into what Lorin Cutts terms The UFO Mythological Zone, which he describes as “the gap between fact and belief, what we see and what we want to see, what we experience and how we interpret it.” Cutts observes that “People are forming highly personalized variations of the one core belief—the belief in a UFO reality. All else is up for individual interpretation via the UFO mythological zone.”

Cutts’ theory certainly applies to Disney’s now legendary UFO documentary. Soon after its original broadcast, many in the UFO community quickly began to speculate that it was a form of “soft Disclosure;” a test of public reaction to a possible future announcement of alien contact. In recent years, rumours have swirled online that the documentary was “lost,” or even “banned” by shadowy forces. This is categorically not the case. It was never lost. It was never banned. It was simply never transferred to video or DVD, and it remained in a state of limbo until a few years ago when someone inevitably decided to upload an original TV recording of the documentary to YouTube. It has since received more than a million views online.

Despite there being no truth to rumors of its suppression, the documentary remains something of an oddity, and the justification for its production remains fuzzy to this day, especially in the context of a related project that was produced in the same year as the documentary, also supposedly intended as a marketing tool for Disney’s “ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter” ride. This tie-in project was a major UFO conference held at Disneyworld in January of 1995, a couple of months prior to the broadcast of the documentary. Titled “UFOs: The Reality of the Phenomenon,” this Disney conference has also since passed into The UFO Mythological Zone.

While researching my book, Silver Screen Saucers, I decided to track down the writer/director of the Disney UFO documentary, Andrew Thomas. He told me I was the only person ever to have contacted him about this curious little production, and he was only too happy to talk about it. I also wanted the inside story of the Disney UFO conference, and how it related to the theme park ride. To this end, I interviewed Don Ecker, the man responsible for organizing the conference for Disney. Like Thomas, Ecker told me that, to the best of his recollection, I was the only person ever to have sought an interview with him on this topic.

This two-part article presents the inside story of Disney’s 1995 UFO documentary and conference, as told by the two men most directly responsible for them respectively: Andrew Thomas and Don Ecker. It also provides some limited speculation as to the possible purpose of these two related projects; be warned, though: in doing so, it skirts around the edges of The Mythological Zone, albeit hopefully without losing its footing and slipping into the sludge.

Before we go any further, in the further interests of maintaining balance, I’d like to point the readers’ attention to another article—an excellent two-parter by David Halperin, which also explores the history and assumed purpose of these very same Disney projects. By reading both my article and Halperin’s, you will hopefully get a full and level history of this curious chapter in UFO lore, though you may still be left scratching your head as to precisely why these curious projects ever were funded in the first place.

I interviewed the documentary’s writer/director, Andrew Thomas, in 2011. Thomas told me how he had been selected by Disney for this project based on his background in reality TV, having been the original producer of the phenomenally successful TV show, Cops. “Making things exceptionally real was the line of work that I was in at the time,” he said. Thomas had also worked for Columbia Pictures as head of special marketing on Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Thomas told me that Disney had requested a documentary “about the history of mankind and aliens. Not a film history, but more of a realistic approach… a special about the history of UFO sightings.” Disney’s only stipulation was that “the last five minutes had to focus on the ride.” Thomas confirmed to me that, instead of giving the documentary network time, Disney’s plan from the outset was to “seed it into independent television stations across the country.”

But why did Thomas’ documentary take such a strong stance in favour of UFO/ET reality? He summed-up his approach as follows: REST OF PART ONE HERE:


Paranormal Adept
That brings back some memory's.
My granddad was the only veterinarian in the city i grew up in, As a result he had more money than he knew what to do with.
So he was the first person in the city (3rd in country) to import a colour TV set.
There wasn't much colour content on TV anyway, but Disneyland was.
Every Sunday we would go to his house and watch Doctor who (in B&W) and Disneyland in colour before Sunday dinner.

Disneyland and aliens have always been something i associate from that memory.

Double Nought Spy

May I please go back to the zoo now?
Interesting article. I watched the TV special on Youtube or something years ago, but don't recall ever hearing about the conference. Heh, no surprise there, apparently. I won't spoil it for anyone, but I laughed when I read about Don Ecker's "prize". Yikes. I'd love to hear his take on the whole episode. Especially his, um, trophy.

One commenter had an interesting idea about why it all went the way it did. Sounded like someone with some experience in the corporate jungle.