The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Future Journeys into Imagination

by Tom Richards, contributing writer
Advertisement

When EPCOT Center opened its gates to the world in 1982, guests were greeted by boundless optimism and never-before-seen wonders. Two of Epcot's most famous characters, however, did not make their appearance until 1983. These beloved characters, created by Disney especially for Epcot, were an integral part of the EPCOT experience until 1998.

For 15 years, Dreamfinder, along with his dragon-like friend Figment, entertained guests in Audio-Animatronic form in the Journey into Imagination attraction housed in the two glass pyramids located near the Land pavilion in Future World and in person near the "Jellyfish Fountains" located outside. After the debacle of the 1999 Journey into YOUR Imagination, a Figment-free renovation that generated mountains of guest complaints, the attraction reopened in 2002 as Journey into Imagination with Figment. While Dreamfinder is still absent (and replaced with a filmed host played by Eric Idle), Figment returned, as did the wonderful Richard and Robert Sherman song entitled "One Little Spark," complete with additional verses. While the current version is in no way shape or form as charming as the first, Figment's return was a welcome one indeed.

There have been rumors circulating for years that the entire pavilion is scheduled for a much-needed makeover. The tired Captain EO, the less-than-stellar ride, and the absence of the Image Works, a two-story playground that once delighted EPCOT Center guests, all but scream for a renovation. As recently as December 2013, some Disney fan-based websites listed Journey into Imagination with Figment as closing in early January 2014 for a complete overhaul. As of this writing, however, the pavilion remains open with the same attraction and the 1986 Michael Jackson "tribute" presentation of Captain EO.

Recently, however, a small announcement sent hopeful shockwaves through the hearts of Figment fans everywhere:

This summer, journey into the exciting depts. Of your own imagination in FIGMENT #1, the new Disney Kingdoms series created by the unique collaboration between Marvel and Walt Disney Imagineering.

Could this new series of comic books signal a rebirth for the original attraction?

A Little Figment History

In its original incarnation, Journey into Imagination was a 14-minute ride that, according to Steve Birnbaum Brings You the Best of Walt Disney World 1985, brought guests through "an assortment of scenes that are handsome and scary by turns . . . [presenting an] organized exploration of how imagination works and the areas of life in which it functions." Dreamfinder, a jolly red-bearded Santa Claus like character, accompanied guests on their exploration, accompanied by Figment, an eccentric purple character "with a lizard's body, a crocodile's nose, a steer's horns, two big yellow eyes, two small wings, and a pinch of childish delight." The entire affair was made even more memorable by a wonderful song, written by the Academy Awarding winning brothers Richard and Robert Sherman. "One Little Spark" captured not only the story and heart of the imagination pavilion, but in many ways, the philosophy of Walt Disney Imagineering. It's no wonder that Figment became a favorite mascot for EPCOT Center, a favorite image featured on exclusive EPCOT Center merchandise, and something of a pet at Walt Disney Imagineering. Disney Legends Tony Baxter and John Hench deserve much of the credit for the look, design, and concepts for this classic bit of Disney history.

This incarnation of the attraction remains its best. When EPCOT originally opened, it was designed with a slightly different purpose than the Magic Kingdom. Thus, many of the themes in Future World and the experiences in World Showcase were designed—intentionally - with an older demographic in mind. Journey into Imagination was the one exception—an experience designed for a younger crowd. Figment's frolics and the Dreamfinder's encouragement became an integral part of the Future World experience. For many of us who, to borrow a phrase from the wonderful Passport to Dreams Old and New, consider ourselves part of the "Epcot Generation," treasure memories of our experiences at the original EPCOT during our formative years.

A Sad Bit of Dreamfinder History

In 1999, a new version of this attraction debuted, this time connected to a 3D film inspired by the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids series of comedies produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Gone were the detailed audio-animatronic versions of Figment and Dreamfinder, replaced by static film clips featuring Eric Idle as the host of the Imagination Institute. Gone, also, were the reassuring purple shades of the original, replaced by garish yellow and oranges that clashed with the skyline and always seemed sadly out of place. And, like so many of early EPCOT Center's wonderful original music, "One Little Spark" disappeared as well. Image Works, an elaborate multi-story playground, was shuttered. It's not only that technological wonders of the original were gutted, but the charm, wit, and warmth of the original were completely obliterated.

In 2002, after endless guests complaints and requests, the pavilion was reimagined once again as Journey into Imagination with Figment. An odd combination of the YOUR Imagination debacle with lots of Figment additions, this version is nowhere as cohesive as the original; the joyous finale, featuring a plethora of Figments and that wonderful "One Little Spark" song, almost make up for it. The fact that Figment and "One Little Spark" returned to the pavilion after only two years of Journey into YOUR Imagination is indicative of the staying power of both Figment and Dreamfinder.

Looking to the Future

In the news release announcing this summer's new series, editor Bill Rosemann poses some enticing questions: "Can you imagine the never-before-revealed origin of one of Disney's most creative characters? Can you picture a Marvel spin on the Epcot Theme Park's mind-expanding attraction, Journey Into Imagination? Have you ever wondered how the inventor known as Dreamfinder created a certain inquisitive purple dragon? Be prepared for all of these answers—not to mention amazing creatures, magical lands, and cool clockwork contraptions—in FIGMENT!"

As the second installment in the Disney Kingdoms series, Figment builds on Marvel's imprint for comics that were inspired by Walt Disney Imagineering, theme park attractions, and never realized ideas in the Imagineering vaults. Seekers of the Weird, the first series in the Disney Kingdom publications, was inspired by Imagineer Rolly Crump's 1960s concepts for a "Museum of the Weird" that was to be build as part of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion expansion. (For a fun look at art and models for the Museum of the Weird, check out the Disney Treasures DVD set about Disneyland. Wally Crump shows his models to Walt Disney himself!)

So, does this new "franchise" approach to Figment and Dreamfinder interest you? Does it inspire hope for a new version of the iconic glass pyramids of the Imagination Pavilion? One look at the visually stunning cover work for the new series, combined with the anticipation of learning Dreamfinder's backstory, makes me cautiously optimistic that the legendary abilities of Walt Disney Imagineers will once again breath life into the much-loved Epcot attraction.

Comments

  1. By mkelm44

    I'm all for changing and updating this one because the idea of imagination- which is essentially the core of the business model for all of the Walt Disney Company- is bigger than this. While I enjoyed the original Dreamfinder/Figment (more than the current version and far more than the 99-02 Version), the Imagination pavilion should be more than a dark ride and a 25 year old 3D movie. It SHOULD be changed every few years if for no other reason than to demonstrate how imagination changes.

    I think a new version of Dreamfinder- not quite a reset to the original version, but somewhere between the current one and the original one- is a must have. But allow Figment to exist in the rest of the imaginary universe that Walt Disney created. Maybe let Figment interact with the dreams of other Disney characters and places. All of those things stirred our imaginations as children (and adult children)- let Figment play with them. The big 3D theater is probably too hard to convert to something else, but a new movie that is less tied to any single franchise (a la Honey I Shrunk or Michael Jackson). A return of the Image Works is also great- it was a great place for both kids and adults to play.

    One other thing I'd add though would be a small theater that would show essentially documentary type movies. For anyone who's ever been to the Newseum in Washington, DC, they have several small theaters which show documentaries about how news is delivered, how reporting changed, how sports have gotten covered- it's actually pretty fascinating. They have great interviews as part of the movies that shed tremendous insight into the moments that impacted us- to hear Al Michaels talk about how it felt saying "Do you believe in Miracles- YES!" is almost as amazing as the moment itself. Disney has a tremendous array of talent at all levels- what was it like for a performer to play the Genie of the Lamp? What was it like for an imagineer to create a new ride and what was the process he used? What was it like for Richard Sherman to write all of those great songs? Did he see Mary Poppins singing his song as he wrote it? A series of those films played in rotation during the day could be absolutely fascinating and would tie in perfectly with the exhibit- travel the road with Disney legends as they go from imagination to reality and back into our collective imaginations.

  2. By DisneyGator

    I'll be honest that I don't get all the angst over Journey Into Imagination, but I also didn't hit WDW until 2002 so I never saw the original. That said, I like the current version of the ride. The narrator/host is very up and interesting, and Figment is a lot of fun. My kids love Figment! It has a catch song, and fun and interesting visual/audio effects. Then when it's done, there's a great place for little ones to run around and have a blast. Plus my older kids will enjoy some of the computer type fun. I don't see a thing wrong with this attraction, other than it's practically hidden away in the park.

    As for the 3-D film, this is where I DO get the angst. HISTA was outdated when we saw it for the first/last time in 2002. The movie was over a decade old at that point and certainly is not a timeless piece. Something has to be done here. Two ideas - first would be a TRON movie. It would be visually stunning, sound awesome, and would attract nerds like me from every sector of the galaxy. Plus it has some staying power thanks to ComicCon and other such events. The second idea would be a Phineas&Ferb movie. They're always into the Imagination thing and kids really love them. The downside is that in 10 years, they won'd be as popular and we'll have to wait another 10 years before Disney replaces it.

  3. By davidgra

    The Imagination pavilion is someplace I hold dear. I loved the original pavilion, and I still love the pavilion today. I miss the original ride with Dreamfinder, yet I love the Eric Idle version of the ride, too. I love the pavilion itself, with the jumping fountains, upside-down waterfall, immersive queue, and yet I'm saddened by the abandoned upstairs area and glass pyramids. I'm an unabashed fan of Captain EO -- I never did care for Honey I Shrunk the Audience, I'll admit -- and I'm so glad to have had the chance to revisit Captain EO for the past several years. I even love the "secret" bathrooms.

    Any talk of "updating" Imagination makes me very nervous, because I think about Horizons and The World of Motion (not to mention the Wonders of Life). I would HATE to see the pavilion essentially destroyed to put in a thrill ride that has lost the spirit of the original Future World. Yet I understand the need to update the pavilion, because it's definitely showing its age.

    Ideally, I'd like to see both the ride updated to something more like the original, but with a modern twist. Have some sort of interactivity -- touchscreens in the ride vehicles, perhaps -- that allows guests to manipulate and interact with what they see. Take the idea of "imagination" to a new level, while retaining Figment and Dreamfinder in a big way. Put the ride's track back to its original length and configuration, take out a lot of the current post-show area, and reopen the upstairs as the post-show area.

    As for the movie, that's a much bigger question. I know it's time for Captain EO to retire. I know something new needs to go in. As for what, I don't know. Not Phineas and Ferb. It needs to be something original and unique to Epcot. Possibly some sort of random-experience 3D film (think Star Tours 2.0) with Figment and Dreamfinder that would be different each time you see it. Something that complements and expands on the experience of the ride.

    However, I'd rather see the pavilion left alone than to see all the magic removed from it. It would break my heart to see it torn down, or worse, to see it sit empty like the Wonders of Life pavilion. Luckily, Figment's fans seem to be vocal enough that the danger of that is fairly minimal.

  4. By Summer McRae

    The older version of this ride was BY FAR more imaginative and whimsical than the current design. I was heartbroken when they changed it and have hoped for years that the original ride would be restored. Even if they would re-design it with the original version in mind, that would be ok too, as long as it harnesses the experience of true imagination and not just facts about the senses. I have recently discovered a video online that takes one through the ride, Mystic Manor, at Hong Kong Disneyland, and it looks to be superior to any of the rides we have here. I really wish they would bring some of that technology and mix it up with Figment AND Dreamfinder in our Imagination Pavilion.

    And the Pyramid needs to be a part of this experience. I miss the rainbow tunnel!!!

    As for Captain EO, as much as I have always loved it, I would not regret seeing it replaced by something cool. However, Phenius and Ferb would NOT be cool! (I did read somewhere that that the F and P thing was just a misunderstanding?) I think they should bring in Oswald the Rabbit. There are so many things that Disney could do with Oswald, and it would be a cool tribute to Walt’s first character. They could make it in the same style as Star Tours in the way that it would be a different experience/story line each time you see it.
    One Little Spark….here’s hoping!

  5. Discuss this article on MousePad.