The Forgotten Films of Figment

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

When Epcot opened in 1982 as EPCOT Center, the Journey to Imagination pavilion featured two characters who captured the heart of audiences: Dreamfinder, a bearded character (physically designed after Imagineer Joe Rohde) who was a combination of Santa Claus and the Wizard of Oz, and his little purple dragon companion, Figment (who was a literal representation of the famous "figment of the imagination").

They were to be the first of many characters representing each of the educational pavilions in Future World (to fill the vacuum of not having traditional Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse, in the park), but they were the only ones that ever appeared.

EPCOT Center was meant to be an educational experience, even having the EPCOT Outreach Library and EPCOT Teacher's Center where guests could get brochures, computer print outs, view videos and more to help satisfy their intellectual curiosity.

According to Disney Legend and Imagineer Marty Sklar in 1982, the EPCOT Outreach area "was established to meet the overwhelming response from guests who want to know more details about the subjects and technologies which are showcased at EPCOT Center. This takes us beyond the material you can cover in a 20-minute adventure about energy, agriculture, or communications. It is another step in the development of EPCOT Center as a place to give millions of people insight into the world around us."

In addition, an offshoot of Disney Educational Media was created titled EPCOT Educational Media. This department produced everything from comic books like Mickey and Goofy Explore the Universe of Energy (1985), to books, filmstrip, and videos that were meant primarily as supplements to be used in schools at a premium price, which was the norm at the time. For instance, the Figment video Would You Eat a Blue Potato? would cost a school $350 to purchase.

One of EPCOT Educational Media's projects was a series of eleven 15-minute videos featuring an animated Figment interacting with real children on a variety of imaginative topics.

Figment supposedly lived in the world of "Figonia," and each episode would include a boy and a girl, who were different actors in each episode and from a variety of ethnicities, whom Figment would help solve a problem. There was an episode featuring Alice from Wonderland, so only a young boy was involved in the story; and another with Peter Pan, so only a young girl was included.

The live action was directed by Robin Allison Smalley, who was a producer on the series along with Bill Scollon, Peter Sauers, and Sallie Zemlin-Kisor. Some of the writing was done by Jamie Simons.

While there was newly created animation, often there were clips from classic Disney animation, as well. For instance, in "Would You Eat a Blue Potato?" there are brief segments from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in Fantasia(1940), "Pecos Bill" from Melody Time (1948), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Jungle Book (1967) and the Silly Symphony "Funny Little Bunnies" (1934) to help illustrate the discussion of colors (eg. the yellow of a panther's eyes, the red flames in a courtyard, or the red on Slue Foot Sue's hair).

Walt Disney Imagineering created a Figment Disney cast member trading pin.

In the interests of being "cost effective," the Disney Company in the 1980s often outsourced animation for its educational films to smaller independent studios who could produce the work faster and cheaper than Disney Feature Animation, which had a tremendous amount of overhead cost to cover.

For instance in 1981, Reinert Production, run by animator Rick Reinert in North Hollywood, was responsible for producing and animating the educational film Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons for Walt Disney Educational Media.

The Disney Company was so impressed with their work that the studio was given the assignment to produce and animate the next theatrically released Winnie the Pooh animated featurette, Winnie the Pooh and A Day for Eeyore (1983). It was the first time in nearly 40 years that Disney outsourced one of its theatrical short cartoons. The first time was in 1938 when Harman-Ising produced and animated Merbabies (1938) for the "Silly Symphony" shorts.

The new animation for the Figment films was credited to the small Chicago animation studio Cioni Artworks with Ray Cioni and Jon McClenahan being credited as the directors.

In October 1987, animator McClenahan had just come back to his hometown of Chicago after a stint working on several Saturday morning animated shows at Hanna-Barbera's Australian studio, including Kwicky Koala, Private Olive Oyl, and the animated Mork and Mindy show. The studio had just closed and McClenahan started looking for work.

"I went to Cioni Artworks," said McClenahan in an interview with Playtpus Comix. "Ray Cioni had a staff of three [including himself] and some two-bit jobs for Golden Books going on. He met with me and after finding out what I had done, he hired me. I spent a year at Cioni Artworks, and then Ray ran into some financial shortages, and by that time the whole Chicago animation industry was looking pretty suspect to me, so I thought I should try opening my own studio."

McClenahan opened StarToons which did some episodes of Tiny Toons and Animaniacs.

Interestingly, the model sheets of Figment for the series were done on left over paper McClenahan had with the Hanna-Barbera Australia studio markings. The Disney Company did open its own animation studio in Sydney, Australia in 1988 in the same H-B building and hiring many of the same animators. The studio worked on television animation series including Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop and Aladdin among other projects before being closed in 2006.

Figment was the star of a video series produced for Epcot Educational Media.

Many of the Figment episodes began with a minute and a half animated segment featuring the character dashing about to various locales, including a rainbow, as he sang an upbeat, catchy tune titled "I'm Figment" by Phil Baron and Jamie Simons. It was also repeated at the end of the episode. You can see a clip of that animation online.

Here are the lyrics as sung by diminutive actor Billy Barty (the voice of Figment in the series as well as the original Walt Disney World attraction):

Come and join me in my travels,
to the pathways of the mind.
When you use imagination,
there's no telling what you'll find.
I'm Figment.

I'm a dragon.
I read and learn and play.
Sounding sounds
Feeling feelings.
What a way to fill a day!

I'm a master of illusion,
doing things that you can't see.
When I smell a pink petunia,
it turns into a bee.

I open books and jump into them.
There's a world of magic there.
When you add your own five senses,
there is nothing you can't dare.

I'm Figment.
I'm a dragon.
I read and learn and play.
Sounding sounds
Feeling feelings.
What a way to fill a day!

I'm Figment, I'm a dragon.
Oh, "Golly!" Double - "Gee!"
Just use the magic in your mind,
like Figment, that's me!

Here is the complete listing of the Figment films produced for EPCOT Educational Media. I assume that the Disney Company has a complete collection, but have not been able to verify that statement. I do know that a complete set in 16mm does exist in a private collection. Thankfully, much material that would otherwise be lost exists in private collections.

I would like to thank the Friends of Figment, the acknowledged experts on all things Figment, for their help in my locating material for this article and recommend you should visit their site:

Your Guide to Language Arts Through Imagination Series With Figment From EPCOT Educational Media

Skills covered (objectives)
(Release date - running time)

Would You Eat a Blue Potato?

Katie and Scott are invited to eat at the home of Figment the dragon. The snack consists of green milk, blue potatoes, pink cauliflower, and orange sandwiches. Figment realizes the food just doesn't feel right to the children.

They read a story of a sad king who painted his kingdom blue to match his mood. The children go through a series of "colorful" experiences and discover color through their senses and imaginations—imagining how the world would look and feel if everything was just one color. In the end, the children realize they like all the colors together best of all—and the King agrees!

Labeling emotions, clustering, comparing and contrasting, and observation skills are all a part of the problem-solving effort.

(September 1988 - 15 min)

What Can You See by Looking?

Figment needs Todd and Dhara to help him. He is on a treasure hunt, looking for the "Bookus Dragonius," which contains all of the world's wisdom. The book was hidden by his Uncle Max who loved word play, puzzles, and anagrams.

Together they find many clues left by Uncle Max: rhyming clues, anagrams, puzzles, books, brain-teasers, and a rebus are all part of this mystery. They solve these clues—and then finally figure it all out.

An invitation to children to take a closer look at, and to think about, what they see. Demonstrates the skills of critical thinking, observation, and rhyming.

(September 1988 - 15 min)

Do Dragons Dream?

Emma and Jeremy have a difficult assignment for their English class—they are to write a story about a dragon. Figment, a magic dragon whose "family specialty" is dreaming, teaches them the creative use of brainstorming and imagining. Jeremy tries to borrow one of Figment's dreams—and learns that he can't, because everyone needs his very own dream. The kids find out that "stories begin in the imagination." Pre-writing, brainstorming, setting goals and using the five senses are just a few of the skills targeted for development in this fanciful film.

Demonstrates the process of developing an idea through brainstorming.

(September 1988 - 15 min)

How Does It Feel to Be an Elephant

Figment takes Matt and Lisa on an "imagination safari" where they meet a menagerie of both real and imaginary animals. There they discover how animals communicate, and also imagine what it would feel like and how to express what it feels like to be certain animals.

Skills gained along the way include comparing and contrasting, observing, and interpreting.

(September 1988 - 15 min)

How Does It Feel to Fly

Figment needs Beth and Danny's help right away: King Dreary has banished him and all his friends from the kingdom, for being make-believe fliers. Beth and Danny hit upon the idea of identifying and making lists of real fliers and man-made fliers, and then persuading them to leave the kingdom also unless the King lets the imaginary fliers back in. In the process they learn that every flight, just like a story, has a beginning, middle, and end.

Demonstrates classifying and sequencing as a means of describing the world around us.

(September 1988 - 14 min)

How Does Sound Sound

"Toot!" "Tick!" "Chirp!" Onomatopoeia is introduced in this "soundsational" adventure. To learn the importance of sound in the world, Peter and Jessica accept Figment's invitation to go with him into Soundspace where they unlock the power of words and the magic of their imaginations. By journey's end, our intrepid explorers learn that language and sound have rhythm—and that the five senses may be used to explore the world around us.

Helps students increase their understanding of the importance of sound in the world.

(September 1988 - 14 min)

Reading Magic With Figment and Peter Pan

Figment is visited unexpectedly by Peter Pan who has lost his way back to Wendy's house and is in need of assistance. Apparently, he temporarily got pixie dust in his eyes. When Figment begins to write down directions for Peter, the boy who refused to grow up reminds him that he never learned to read. Figment agrees to bring Wendy to Figonia, but a miscalculation brings Amy instead. Through reading, Figment and his friend Amy vividly make the point that books can transport you to faraway lands, transform you into other characters, and open you up to innumerable adventures. By program's end, Peter agrees that being able to read is wonderful and magical. He may even learn to read himself!

Encourages the use of literature as the basis of creative play; showing how reading can help identify feelings, and that each person brings their own experiences and interpretations to the story.

(August 1989 - 15 min)

Writing Magic With Figment and Alice in Wonderland

While reading his favorite book, "Alice In Wonderland", Andy discovers that all signs of Alice are missing from his book. Alice has taken another wrong turn and ended up in Figonia! How will she get back to Wonderland? Through Figment's magic screen, cartoon characters reveal that to return, Alice must write a new story. Andy, Figment, and some of Alice's friends from Wonderland create a new story to "write" Alice back to Wonderland. As you might expect, in Figonia the story becomes real as it's told.

The audience is introduced to the techniques used to bring a story to life; brainstorming, writing, and rewriting are the keys to solving Alice's dilemma.

(August 1989 - 15 min)

What's an Abra Without a Cadabra?

Justin and his sister Kim are magically transported to Figonia by reciting the magic words in a mysterious magic kit. Once there, Figment hesitantly informs them that he doesn't know the magical words to return them home. Comparing and contrasting the sound, spelling, and meaning of words is the key to getting them back home again.

Designed to help students identify antonyms, homonyms, synonyms, and rhymes, and to interest them in different ways of saying things.

(September 1989 - 15 min)

Where Does Time Fly?

Figment needs a story for the story contest he wants to win, and flies through time to find the inspiration to write a wonderful story. In original animation, he visits dinosaurs, the Wild West, and outer space, but can't seem to come up with an idea he likes. He invites two young children, Nick and Jessie, to help him. Nick's favorite stories are about pirates, so they decide on a pirate story-- which a pirate helps them write.

Past, present, and future are explored by applying appropriate verb tenses and characterizations.

(September 1989 - 17 min)

Case of the Missing Space

Figment has received a letter from someone who needs help, but because the letters from the signature have fallen off the page, he can't find out who it is. He engages Alex and Natalie to help him solve the mystery. Using their imagination and reasoning to try all sorts of possibilities, and giving the audience a chance to see how brainstorming works in solving a problem, they discover the mysterious author.

Explores wordplay and word and symbol relationships through the uses of observation skills and deductive reasoning.

(September 1989 - 16 min)