The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Future Journeys into Imaginationby Tom Richards, contributing writer
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.