Disney theme park fans can be more than a little over the top. If you've ever mentioned plans to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World within earshot of the wrong person, somebody probably offered to tell you everything you need to know to get the most out of your trip, and probably went ahead and started to tell you whether you wanted them to or not. I can make that joke because I'm certainly capable of being that guy. In my job covering the theme park industry I've read a lot of books about the history of places like Disneyland and so I know a lot about the history of the park and there are times when I certainly feel like I know everything there is to know, and then something like the new documentary film Live From the Space Stage: A HALYX Story drops in front of me and I'm forced to ask, "Wait a minute, what the hell is HALYX?"
HALYX was a rock band created by Disney which performed at Disneyland's Space Mountain stage for a single summer in 1981. That might not sound like enough to be worthy of a feature-length documentary, but then, that's sort of the beauty of the story of HALYX, there's so much more going on there then you might ever believe. HALYX was born out of a business meeting, an idea that would make money, but it grew into its own thing, a real rock and roll band, and a truly unique one with a story worth telling.
Live From the Space Stage is the crowd-funded passion project of Kevin Perjurer, the creator of the Defunctland YouTube channel, and Matthew Serrano, an independent filmmaker making his directorial debut. The Defunctland series is already home to some of the best theme park related documentary work available, (the Defunctland series on the life of Jim Henson is quite simply flawless) but make no mistake, this is not simply an expanded episode of that series. A HALYX Story is a true documentary film, going right to the sources to build the story of this unlikely rock band. It's fun, funny, and more than a little heartbreaking in the end, but ultimately it's a great piece of filmmaking that belongs with any of the other quality documentary pieces actually made by Disney.
HALYX was a band manufactured by Disney's record label in the early 1980s as the growing brand was looking for new ways to break out in the music business. The idea, which came largely from Mike Post, the man behind television theme music for shows from Magnum P.I. to Law & Order, was to create a rock band with a science fiction gimmick that would help them stand out. Basically, they were KISS if done by Disney. Lora Mumford, described as a "punk Snow White," became the lead singer. Her husband Thom Miller played the keyboards, dressed as a robot driving a motorized cart. Roger Freeland became the band's bassist, all while wearing a massive "Wookie" suit that turned him into a seven-foot-tall white-haired beast. Tony Coppola looked like a bipedal frog while playing percussion and using his dancing an acrobatic skills to entertain the crowd. Brian Lucas played the drums in a costume that was rejected by lead guitarist Bruce Gowdy.
The band's connection to Disneyland is ultimately just about being the right place at the right time. The theme park gave the band a place to learn to play together and a place for the "real" record executives to get a look at the band. But for a summer, HALYX was the star of the Space Mountain stage at Tomorrowland, and the band had their own die-hard fans that created names for the characters, designed their own hand sign, and even their own merchandise. One can only imagine how HALYX fans would have gone wild had DeviantArt and fan fiction been a thing in 1981.
And Live From the Space Stage certainly makes it clear that there was real talent in this band. While most of the music available comes from rough audience recordings of the day, and thus it's not perfect quality, even in that rough form the musical skill of the band and Lora Mumford's ability to belt to the back row is obvious. And seriously, how could you not want to see a show with a poster like this?
The fact that HALYX isn't a household name today is enough to tell you where the story is ultimately going, but that doesn't make the journey of HALYX any less intriguing. While the film does a great job of trying not to draw too much attention to what it's not telling you, it's not hard to notice early on that something is missing, and looking for the answers to those early questions hooked me to the very end just to see where it was all going. In the end, the documentary still leaves some questions unanswered. But sometimes even Disneyland can't provide the happy ending you're looking for.
The story of HALYX is the story of a lot of bands that never quite made it, but most of them will never get a documentary film. At least here, thanks to this unlikely Disneyland connection, people who were never rock stars, or who, like HALYX, actually got to be rock stars, however briefly, still get their story told.
I'm too young to have seen HALYX on stage but as somebody who spent many an evening at the Disneyland shows of bands like Tomasina and the Mad T Party Band, I have seen the acts that, even if they didn't know it, carried the mantle started by HALYX, and like them built unlikely fanbases out of guests at a theme park. Thanks to Live From The Space Stage, more people will know about this piece of forgotten Disney history, including your friend who thinks he knows everything about theme parks.
Live From The Space Stage: The Story of HALYX debuts on the Defunctland YouTube channel Thursday, August 20.