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On Imagination’s 30th: A Re-Birthday Wish

If Walt Disney ever actually said, “Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world,” I’ve never met anyone who heard him say it.

On the other hand, there were hundreds at last year’s IAPPA symposium who heard Tony Baxter say: “I don’t think the Imagination pavilion works anymore.”

People were shocked – not at the message, but by the messenger – since everyone assumed we’d never hear such blasphemy from someone who wanted to keep their job at WDI. But as we know now, Tony’s forthright statement was merely his first nod to the world that he was eyeing the door and fishing for his keys…

Can it really be 30 years since Figment and I dedicated the Journey into Imagination?

In March of 1983 EPCOT Center was unique in the world. The management team that produced the world’s first ‘exploration park’ did a terribly brave – and naïve – thing: they trusted their creative staff with the design and operating philosophy of their new $1.2 billion dollar baby. So there was no fantasy at EPCOT… and NO Mickey mice. In its place were insight and inspiration… and Dreamfinder & Figment.

Visitors thought the Imagination pavilion was EPCOT Center’s concession to the youngsters, but it was much more. The Imagineers’ vision for EPCOT was different from a world’s fair, where each display competes for the guests’ time and attention; instead, each Future World pavilion told a part of the Story of Man. All the technological wonders of Future World, and the cultural wonders of World Showcase, grew from the human imagination, and Tony Baxter and company dramatically demonstrated this In the Kodak pavilion’s ride-thru.

The miracle of the Journey into Imagination was that it defined and personalized the creative process for everyone who rode it. From Dreamfinder we learned that “Imagination is something that belongs to all of us”, and in the adventure that followed we grew to identify with Figment and realize the potential of our own future worlds.

Is it any wonder that the man responsible for this miracle would look at Epcot’s current Imagination pavilion and remark, “I don’t think (it) works anymore”?

Declining by degrees...

These thirty years have gifted me with a unique point of view of the Imagination phenomenon. Every day working with Figment I saw the effect that our pavilion had on the guests we met, played and posed with. And today, decades later — thanks to millions of friends on dozens of web sites and blogs and fan communities — we’re still celebrated and celebrating.

This is amazing when you realize that the characters – and their point of origin – were wiped clean in 1998. Even though there’s a figment-of-sorts filling that space in Future World, we know that this imaginary friend isn’t the real thing. (The real Figment would find something more imaginative to entertain us than a toilet on the ceiling.)

That the characters are so fondly remembered and still inspire wonder has very little to do with what we strolling actors did day-to-day. It is entirely due to what Mr. Baxter and the Imagineers accomplished in the ride. That wonder-filled introductory flight to the Dreamport… the creation before our eyes of Dreamfinder’s little purple buddy… the empowering freedom Figment celebrated… the way they wove each spark of inspiration into our journey… and that final moment with the dragon, surrounded by images of the creative paths he might take with his new gift.

The guests identified with their newborn friend. And we learned something wonderful about ourselves: That we, too, were creatures born of sparks of imagination and could follow any dream we’d choose to find.

Photo by Mark Bryan Wilson

I can sympathize with all the self-appointed “Friends of Figment” who still campaign to bring back the old ride. It was a magic thing, an inspiration… and it’s easy to believe that if it returned we’d also get something back of our lost innocence. But it’s a lie. (Besides, I’ve actually heard the recording of Walt Disney saying, “You can’t top pigs with pigs”.)

The original Journey into Imagination was ahead of its time, creatively speaking. Technologically speaking, though, it was firmly rooted in the eighties. Every marvel present in the original Image Works is now available – or surpassed – on your own handheld device, and the innovations and cultural references of the ride are ancient history.

Let’s punch the ‘reset’ on our hopes and expectations. Let’s pray for another revolutionary journey, similar to the original but different. This time we’ll be piloting the Dreamcatcher.

What hasn’t aged… what is still more than valid… what needs to be brought back in force… is that underlying message of inspiration, inclusion and encouragement. Like Walt himself told us every Sunday night back in the day, we are wonderful, talented, creative beings. For the sake of our own future world, we need brave and naïve producers who will trust their creative partners…

And Dreamfinders – like Walt and Tony – to remind us of the power of our own creative sparks.

Illumination, by Emma Leavitt

Image by Emma Leavitt

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  1. Posted March 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    That was a great article. I feel the same way in that you cannot undo the past and bring the original Imagination ride back. I loved Imagination as much as I did Horizons, but I do wonder if Horizons could stand up to the test of time if it were still operational. Would Horizons have needed constant updates because it would get closer and closer to the ‘future’ realized in animatronic form? Imagination, on the other hand, could have aged better than Horizons, given the whimsical, beautiful nature of Imagination and its message. I do think we need a new attraction that brings back the original message, however I wonder if people’s expectations of what Epcot has become. Has Epcot just become another theme park? It is still a place of hope and optimism about the future of humanity? I don’t know the answer, but I think it makes for a great debate.

  2. FigmentFan98
    Posted September 17, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Ron, I love the way u wrote this. Definitely means a lot to me. I first discovered the Dreamfinder & Figment characters & the original Journey Into Imagination attraction on YouTube 2 years ago. After I watched the video, I though to myself, boy, I really hope I can see that ride someday. Well unfortunately for me, I found out they closed it and replaced it with two other versions of the ride. Journey Into Your Imagination & Journey Into Imagination With Figment. I was outraged when I found out they changed it! The beautiful ride with Dreamfinder & Figment was instead a dark,short, boring disgrace to the original starring Dr. Nigel Channing from Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (another attraction I never liked)! Like really c’mon, It was one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World EPCOT Center! It was a classic! Why would they even think of changing it?! I don’t get it! U know the saying, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Well that’s exactly what they did and I’m very annoyed. On my trip to Epcot last summer, I went to The Imagination Pavilion. Walking through those doors knowing that it wasn’t the wonderul attraction with Dreamfinder & Figment i saw on the YouTube video was pretty hard for me. So I get on the ride and I ride the whole thing, and I notice something. Not only was the whole ride a lot shorter and much darker then it should be, but when I got to The new ImageWorks, boy was I disappointed. There were barely any activities to do. Only about 4. How ridiculous! The old ImageWorls had much more to offer then what they’re calling ImageWorks! Unbelievable! Only things to do there were a Simon Says type game, a Figment motion activated Melody maker, and a Create a Figment. While the Create a Figment was cool all the rest was just so so. Me and my grandmother were very disappointed with the new attraction and the new ImageWorks and we’re hoping to send a letter to Disney explaining this whole situation and why they should bring the original ride back. Yes it may be outdated but it sure as heck is better then the garbage they have there now! All I can hope is even if they don’t have all the old props and etc they can remake them with modern technology. Here’s hoping that someday I’ll be able to ride the original attraction with Dreamfinder & Figment.

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