My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Epcot's Journey Into Imagination with Figmentby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope everyone out there is healthy and safe.
This is going to sound like a pretty obvious statement, especially coming from me, but I've really been thinking about Walt Disney World a lot lately. Yeah, I know…stop the presses! Barry Thinking of Disney! News at 11! I've especially been thinking about my kids and Disney. I was looking for some photos for this very article and I started really getting sentimental about being at Disney with my kids when they were little. My twin boys are now 18 and my daughter is 22. I know it sounds cliche, but it really does seem like yesterday when we were pushing them around the parks in a Disney stroller. I love being there with my wife and kids no matter what age the kids are, but, as we all know, there's just something extra magical about being at Disney with young kids.
One of the places we spent a lot of time at when the kids were little was Journey into Imagination with Figment in Epcot's Future World West. Figment was an immediate hit with all three of my kids and that's no big surprise. What kid doesn't like Figment? And for that matter, what Walt Disney World fan, including yours truly, doesn't like Figment? I realize that Journey into Imagination does take some heat out there in the World Wide Web of Disney fanatics. The most common complaint is that it's just not as good as the original incarnation of the attraction with the legendary Dreamfinder. Now, I know all about the Dreamfinder but, truth be told, the current iteration of Journey into Imagination is the only one I've ever experienced, so I have no "good ole days" to compare it to.
I tend to not get too far down the rabbit hole of Disney bashing that goes on out there. I'm a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. If you read most of the online forums out there comprised of Bruce fans, you'd walk away thinking that the man hasn't done anything good since 1978. Truth be told, if you took everything Bruce has released in just the 21st Century alone, he'd still have way more prolific a career than most other artists could ever dream of. I'm kind of in the same camp when it comes to Disney. I've been a lifelong fan of the animation, the films and the characters but I didn't become a Walt Disney World fanatic until this current century we're in right now. So, no I didn't get to see Horizons at Epcot or the submarines in the Magic Kingdom. And I didn't get to see Figment and the Dreamfinder together. That doesn't mean that the adorable purple dragon and his ride doesn't hold a special place in my heart or my kid's hearts because it certainly does. Let's take a look at why with my Top 5 things to love about Journey into Imagination with Figment.
5 - Eric Idle
When I did my Top 5 to Love About Soarin' back in March, I included Patrick Warburton on my list as the ride's host. I always got a kick out of my kid's saying, "Daddy, it's Kronk," every time we lined up in the Soarin' queue and was greeted by Mr. Warburton, also known as David Puddy from Seinfeld, The Tick and the voice of Joe on Family Guy. I've always loved when Disney throws a celebrity host into an attraction like Gary Sinise in Mission:Space, Phylicia Rashad in Dinosaur or Dame Judi Dench as the Spaceship Earth narrator. But, my all time favorite and, to me, the most surprising cameo has to be Eric Idle as Professor Nigel Channing in Journey Into Imagination with Figment.
My brother was a big Monty Python fan and I therefore grew up with the sounds and sights of this legendary comedy troupe in my life. Needless to say, I was surprised when one of the most irreverent comedians of our time ended up in a Walt Disney World attraction. Let's face it, Monty Python could be downright dark sometimes and Journey into imagination has to be the complete antithesis of some of Mr. Idle's earlier works. But that's the winning hand here for me. My kids will forever know him as the silly professor on the Figment ride and that's great. While I love him as Dr. Channing as well, I've certainly thought this was an odd pairing. I mean, can there be any more disparate career highlights than Eric singing One Little Spark with Figment and Eric hanging on a cross singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life? I'm not sure if this kind of casting would even take place today, so I revel in the fact that Eric Idle is even there to begin with. It's one of those moments where Disney is in complete synergy with my "non Disney" side and I kind of live for those moments.
4 - Disney Film References
One thing that Disney has always been good at is hiding Easter eggs in their attractions, hidden references that pay homage to former attractions or to films in the Disney canon. The Imagination Institute has some great Easter eggs referencing some classic Disney science centered films. As soon as you enter the queue, you'll see Weebo the robot, which isn't really hidden. It's out there in the open in a display case. Weebo was Prof. Philip Brainard's assistant in the 1997 Disney film Flubber which is of course a remake of the classic Disney film, The Absent Minded Professor. As you move on through the queue, you're greeted by yet another obvious nod to Disney science films with three portraits. There's the aforementioned Robin Williams character from Flubber and he's next to Wayne Szalinski of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids fame, and the stars of the attraction Dr. Nigel Channing and Figment.
However, it's the not so obvious nods that I enjoy on the queue and in the ride. The first, located in the queue, is the office of Eugene Higgins, Dean of Medfield College. That fictional institution is known to Disney fans as the setting for a few Disney films like the above mentioned Absent Minded Professor as well as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes which starred a young Kurt Russell. A total of eight Disney films took place in either Medfield College or the town of Medfield; Two films with Fred MacMurray as Professor Brainard, the original Absent Minded Professor and its sequel Son of Flubber, three with Kurt Russell starring as college student Dexter Riley - the aforementioned Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don't and The Strongest Man in the World - the Robin Williams remake, Flubber, the 1995 version of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes with Kirk Cameron and last but not least, taking place in the town but not necessarily the college, The Shaggy D.A.
Later on in the attraction, right after the Sound Room, you come across my favorite and the most subtle of the attraction's references. You see a red jacket with a large letter M on it, which is obviously from Medfield. On the floor outside the door you'll find a pair of red sneakers. On the window is a sign that reads, "No Tennis Shoes Allowed." this is one of those references that dozens of guests see every day, and you can pretty much guarantee, they don't catch on or even notice this very cool throwback to a classic Disney film.
3 - The Final Reveal Room
For the most part, Journey into Imagination isn't a very complex, detailed ride. Most of the ride before this point is pretty simple. There are some fun effects like the butterfly in the cage and the unforgettable skunk smell room with its giant "Figment slot machine thing." The attraction takes it up a notch when we "divert from the tour" and we're led into Figments upside down house. This is where the famous Disney details start kicking in. There's a lot to look at as we tour through Figment's house. My particular favorite is the dragon in his bathtub. It's all over a little too soon though as you leave Figment's house and head into another room of video monitors where we get a final word from Dr. Channing and Figment and then you get the big shock of the attraction. The screens go dark, the room goes dark, there's a blast of air and noise and the screens magically disappear.
When the lights come on, you suddenly see a whole bunch of Figments floating around the room as the classic theme song plays. It startles the little ones, for sure, but the end result is a fun, lighthearted room filled with music and color and lots of Figments dressed in different outfits. It's probably the most satisfying room in the attraction.
2 - One Little Spark
Leave it to the Sherman Brothers to write a song that gets lodged in your head and leaves you humming its melody forever more. Don't believe me? Think of "it's a small world," "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" and "The Tiki, Tiki Tiki Room" from the parks not too mention the songs from Mary Poppins and you'll see what I mean.
One of the many travesties of Journey into Your Imagination, the 1999 2nd iteration of the attraction was the removal of this classic Sherman Brothers tune, never mind leaving The Dreamfinder and Figment behind. When the ride reopened in its current form, the Dreamfinder was still gone, but Figment was back and so was this infectious song. Walt himself was a big Sherman Brothers fan and for good reason. "One Little Spark" is a fun bouncy song that makes the attraction that much better. I can't get it out of my head for hours after we ride.
1 - Figment
This seems like way too obvious of a selection for the top slot doesn't it? But, let's face it, Figment is the big star here and it's completely understandable. He's lovable. He's adorable. He's a little bit of a troublemaker, but he has good intentions. Most importantly, he's a creation of Epcot. When you have the stable of characters that Disney has, it's pretty impressive, at least to me, that a character solely created for an attraction becomes so legendary and so loved. Kids love him. Adults love him. Disney fans swear by him.
In some ways, he is the Epcot mascot. He represents the one thing that we all love so much about Disney. He represents imagination and where would we Disney fans be without that? Journey into Imagination is long overdue for a reimagining. As Future World goes through its major transformation, my hope is that someday, they give this attraction the love it deserves, but that they keep it centered on Figment, one of my favorites and definitely one of Disney's most beloved creations.
Over the last year or so, Tony Baxter, the legendary Disney Imagineer who created the original attraction has been expressing his desires for his baby to be redone. At the moment there are no official plans for a Journey into Imagination reimagining. Given the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on the company and its plans for the parks, Figment fans may have to wait a little bit longer for some good news on the imagination front. However, Mr. Baxter has come out of retirement to advise on the retheming of Splash Mountain, another one of his legendary creations. With Tony in the fold again, and openly wishing that Figment would get shown some attention, who knows what the future may bring. Dare I say it…we can only imagine. Yeah, you're right, I shouldn't have said it.
Two more things about Journey into Imagination with Figment that I'd like to mention. First, and it almost made this list, is the fact that this Muppet fan always takes special care to notice that the voice of Figment in this most recent version of the attraction is none other than Dave Goelz, the voice and Muppeteer behind Gonzo the Great. I'm pretty sure most guests are not aware of that little factoid. I had the pleasure of working with Dave way back during my time with Jim Henson Productions. He's a treasure and it's very cool that a Muppet legend is the voice of a Disney legendary character. Secondly, following up on the fact that I never got to see the original attraction with Dreamfinder, I also, never experienced the short lived 2nd version of the attraction that only ran for two years. Like I said, I'm a pretty positive guy when it comes to this kind of stuff, but I've watched YouTube videos of the short lived and much maligned 2nd iteration and…oh boy…it's pretty terrible. If you have any complaints about the current version of Figment and his journey seek out the previous version and you'll be glad we have what we have. I know I am.
At any rate, I'm hoping to get to Walt Disney World again someday soon. There is a MousePlanet crew trip happening in October of this year and I hope to be there for that. I'll happily head over to Future World and ride with Figment and my MousePlanet pals, but I really need to be there again soon with my kids. Despite my daughter being 22 and my twin boys being 18, Figment is still a must do for us on every trip and let's face it, we could use a little spark of imagination to inspire us again after the year we just had. I hope it's sooner rather than later.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts on Figment and Journey into Imagination. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.