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Journey Into Imagination: The Tragic Tale of Disney's Lost Attraction Masterpiece

Image: E82 - The Epcot Legacy, Flickr (license)

If you’re ready to journey into imagination, you’ll need the right mode of transportation. The vehicles inside the Imagination pavilion might not look familiar, but the technology is. Four vehicles load at once – each with two rows – and set off into the attraction.

While it might seem entirely unique, these four cars that advance into the ride together are really just a modified version of Disney’s fabled Omnimover – the same ride system pioneered in another Lost Legend: Adventure Thru Inner Space, and famously used in the Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth, and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – moving slowly through the building and turning along their course to face show scenes.

As you depart from the loading bay, you may here a comfortable melodic twinkling in your ear. That unmistakable melody is “One Little Spark,” the ride’s irreplaceable theme song written by the Sherman Brothers (the brilliant duo behind Disney's most fabled songbook entries, like “it’s a small world,” “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” and most every other memorable Disney Parks tune.) The melody dances along:

One little spark of inspiration
Is at the heart of all creation!
Right at the start of everything that’s new,
One little spark lights up for you! 

Do yourself a favor and listen to “One Little Spark” below.

The Dreamcatcher

Rising through the clouds, lights pulse to the tune of the song. Off to your left, you’ll notice the silhouette of a most unusual flying contraption as its shadow soars through the clouds. Through various unusual appendages, the zephyr seems to be vacuuming in various objects. Ahead, the clouds part and your train presses forward for a face-to-face encounter with that flying Dreamcatchter and its pilot – our jovial, ginger-bearded Dreamfinder.

Image: Disney

This scene is perhaps the most impressive of Journey’s tricks. Your vehicle has actually engaged with a giant turntable, its cars all directed inward. Dreamfinder and his floating contraption are moving around the turntable, too, matching your speed. A truly ingenious feat of Imagineering, this turntable allows you to feel as if you're in a stationary scene even as the constantly-moving Omnimovers advance onward. (A similar effect is used today on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, as your vehicle pulls up and into a domed movie screen, with you and the screen both circling a turntable at the same pace.)

For the next few minutes, you’ll be moving around the turntable and flying right alongside Dreamfinder. And in those few minutes, he'll make quite an impression.

“Oh, hello there! I’m so glad you could come along. I am the Dreamfinder!” The Dreamcatcher begins absorbing musical notes floating through the clouds. “Ahah! Musical notes! What delightful melodies those will make. I love these flights of fancy. Searching the universe for sounds, colors, ideas, anything that sparks the imagination!” 

“Oh!” He gasps. “And here’s my favorite!” Light begins pulsating through the tubes of the Dreamcatcher, sending buttons and gadgets whirring.

He sings to the tune of “One Little Spark:”

Two tiny wings; eyes big and yellow.
Horns of a steer, but a lovable fellow!
From head to tail, he’s royal purple pigment!
And there, voila! You’ve got a figment!

Image: Disney

And indeed, from the pressure cooker attached to the Dreamcatcher rises Figment. Dreamfinder adds a dash of childish delight, and the duo sings about the four areas of imagination we’ll visit today: Art, Literature, Performing Arts, and Science, as the sky around the Dreamcatcher changes to demonstrate and absorb each. Before long, Dreamfinder announces that the flying machine is full! We’ll need to stop by the Dreamport to store some ideas. Lucky for us, “The Dreamport is never far away when you use your imagination!”

Dreamport

The trains disengage from the turntable and advance into the next show scene. The Dreamport is a whimsical room of distorted cartoon dimensions, levels, gears, and gauges. Among Dreamfinder and Figment’s collection of oddities is a giant coffee pot pouring coffee right above guest’s heads, rainbows, a “brain storm” made of mini lightning bolts and fog tornado, molecular structures, a file cabinet of sounds, and a perfume bottle that emitted the smell of flowers. 

With your sparks dropped off and the Dreamcatcher ready for more, it’s time to press on into the four realms of Imagination. 

Art

Image: Disney

In the next room, you’re immersed in the first realm of Imagination: Art.

Mix red and gold from autumn flowers,
Purple and blue from twilight hours.

Green summer hills and rainbows play a part: 
A painter's brush, a work of art!

Standing near the room’s entrance is Dreamfinder himself – now in his best recreation of a Renaissance artist’s wardrobe – painting a giant mural on the wall that shifts colors as the train passes.

Image: Disney

The Art room, in some ways, resembled the finale scene of “it’s a small world.” Every corner was filled with white scenery and animations that all resembled origami art or paper cutouts. An origami carousel revolves with fantastic creatures. Rainbow reflecting pools, prisms spilling out rainbow light… an entire Technicolor garden to get your imagination going. 

Literature

In the next room, Dreamfinder stands at an organ embedded inside of a volcano, with a most unusual keyboard, typing letters to play a haunting tune. As he types, lava and smoke billow from the volcano peak above. This is the start of the “Tales of Terror” segment of the ride.

One chilling word, like shriek or killer
Can spark the mind to start a thriller
And some more sparks like dagger, blood, and gory
And then, a mystery story! 

Image: Disney

Passing by, Figment sits above, holding three blocks spelling out the word “C-A-T” with the silhouette of a cat behind him. With a twist of his wrist, the C block revolves to become a B, with a bat appearing behind him. Turning, the trains reveal giant letters spelling out words: Avalanche, Tumble, Shake, and Sway, with the giant letters acting out the action described. When the word Surprise lights up, a tub of fireworks erupts, sending the words Twinkle, Flash, and Sparkle into the sky via fiber optics!

Image: Disney

Then, the vehicles rotate to reveal a magical library full of books, each paired with its own sight gag. Lightning strikes, leaving the word “lightning” illuminated in its trail in the sky. Figment holds a flickering candle up to a book, casting the word “shadow.” Through fantasy books of “Leprechauns,” “Knights,” and “Dragons,” the vehicle glides past a fairytale castle on a hill.

Performing Arts

Image: Disney

Around the corner, the trains enter the backstage dressing rooms of a lavish theater, with Figment dressed in his best black tuxedo and looking into a makeup mirror. A glowing marquee promises, “World Premier Performance!”

Some happy songs, some snappy dances,
Costumes and sets, spoofs and romances,
With laughs and tears and footlights all aglow!
The spark ignites a brand new show!

Inside the grand theatre auditorium, Dreamfinder conducts a laser light show with dancing stars and glowing music notes. Just past the stage, Figment awaits in a space suit. He’s hoping to tag along to the final realm.

Science

A digital recreation of the Science scene via journeybackintoimagination.blogspot.com

The train passes through a tunnel where geometric shapes expand into infinity, moving further and further away from guests. Exiting the tunnel, you emerge in a circular theatre covered in screens (not unlike Disney’s Circlevision presentations) with Dreamfinder in a white lab coat at the controls. As the cars glide around the room, he points out a view of Earth taken from space. The planet – looking fairly insignificant among the stars – morphed into a drop of water and fell into a pond.

Technology, like a newfound potion
Allows us to marvel at mysteries of motion!
Water dances where visions begin;
Science reveals a life within!

The screens zoom in to the drop of water, showing microscopic living organisms. 

I’ll wind this dial and time escapes,
Watch minerals change to crystal shapes!
Let’s look at nature at this speed,
From germination, then back to seed!

He shows time-lapse videos of flowering growing from seeds, bursting into full bloom, then dying and decomposing. Earth returns to the screens.

Skyrockets soar toward outer space.
Imagine yourself in an infinite place!

The Finale

“Oh, there are so many places to dream about!” Figment cries.

“We can visit worlds that were, that could be, and those of fantasy and reality!”

“What’s next, Dreamfinder?”

“Why, imagination can take us over the rainbow and to worlds beyond! It’s the key to unlock the hidden wonders of our world!”

The trains then pass through a giant star and into the finale – a room with eight screens, each showing Figment trying his hand at a different occupation: dancer, superhero, scientist, weightlifter, mountain climber, horseback rider, sailor, and pirate.

Image: Disney

As the vehicles advances toward the disembark point, Dreamfinder offers one final invitation: “And what about you folks? Imagination is something that belongs to all of us. So, join us now in a magical playground, where technology and your creativity combine to make dazzling new images. Next stop, the Image Works! Figment and I have certainly enjoyed our Journey Into Imagination with you. And in just a few moments, you'll get a chance to use your sparks of inspiration in the Kodak ImageWorks, the creative playground of the future!”

And indeed, the iconic ImageWorks hosted on the pavilion's second level (under the glass pyramids themselves) was a playground of wonders. Like so many of EPCOT's post-shows, this was the sponsor's real chance to connect and show off their innovations. For Kodak, that meant a playground of visual delights, light shows, interactive games, and so much more. There were giant pin walls, oversized kaleidoscopes, electronic coloring books, musical stepping "tones," interactive screens, and the signature Rainbow Corridor, through which pulsing colors would trace your path thanks to sensors embedded in the tunnel.

Image: Disney

ImageWorks was as much a draw as Journey Into Imagination itself... the epitome of EPCOT Center's interactive post-show experiences. Families could play, learn, and grow in the ImageWorks, all while marveling at the unthinkable advances Kodak had brought to their own World's Fair pavilion. 

We invite you to enjoy this point-of-view video of Journey Into Imagination recorded in 1998 – the year that the attraction’s doors were closed for good.

On October 10, 1998, Journey Into Imagination's doors were shuttered.

Circumstances had led Disney to the simple conclusion that a refresh of the beloved, 15-year-old ride was required. In an era before social media (and a very different time in terms of management), fans wondered what could be happening to the fabled dark ride inside the Imagination pavilion... It took a full year, but just in time to kick off Walt Disney World's Millennium Celebration headquartered at Epcot, the doors to the pavilion opened once more. 

A subtle change seemed to signal what might be a small difference to the ride... the marquee now called the ride inside Journey Into YOUR Imagination. 

But those expecting a version of the 1983 classic updated for the new millennium would be sorely disappointed… Journey Into Imagination had been scrapped for one of the most despised and disliked Disney rides of all time… Read on…

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There are 35 comments.

Thanks for a great article. I was 12 when Epcot Center opened, and Journey to Imagination really made the park a favorite of mine when it was added. I remember selecting Epcot as a "last day" park a couple times just so I could see Figment one more time. My son loves the attraction too, and it was very cool to watch the ride through of the original.

I have loved figment since I first saw him in 1983 when I was 2 years old. I got a figment stuffed animal that trip who was bigger than I was and rode in my stroller with me the rest of the trip. When we got home, he slept in my bed every night for (literally) the next 20 years. I still have him. Luckily, I missed the travesty that was the year without figment, but the imagination pavilion has been the highlight of my trips to Disney every time (at least 12 trips through the years). I am a loyal fan. Note that we have begun bringing my sister's children to Disney, I'm bringing a new generation in my family into the figment fandom. On their first trip, I bought them both stuffed animals, and on or recent trip a month ago, my adorable 6 year old niece made up a figment song. I stocked up on everything figment I could find. As a photographer, figment and the whole imagination pavilion speak to me on a deep level and I think it speaks to everyone in some way. While the latest incarnation of the pavilion isn't as memorable as the original, I have hope that the fans around the world who fell in love with the original whimsy and creativity of the original will convince Disney to do more tip bring back what this pavilion was all about: stretching the mind and using imagination to innovate.

Figment, to me, is a symbol of my childhood. My parents took us to Disney just about every year. And this ride and the whole pavilion with those bouncing water fountains was one of the major highlights. My brother, sister, and I looked forward to it almost like we would Christmas. Looking back, I would like to think that Figment helped me to build an imagination and be creative. Sometimes, even now, when I want inspiration, I think about that "one spark." Thanks for sharing this story. I had no idea I had Magnum P.I. to thank for this important part of my youth. I wish I could share a better, more modern version of the original ride with my son. Here's to dreaming.

Thank you for the history lesson. I really enjoyed reading about Figment and the late, lamented ride. Dotti Chesney

the biggest mistake to NY City and its tourism was the closing of the World's Fair.

Please do one of these stories on Horizons. Two of the best Disney attractions ever, both in the same themepark, both lost forever.

After taking my first trip around the renovated Imagination, I was beyond angry and disappointed. I complained to the CM at the register and she says that she's heard complaints all day every day. Disney doesn't fail often, but when it does, it's pretty awful

Personally I fail to see why they can't just bring back the original ride, reroute the tracks, reopen the closed areas, a lick of paint on the old figures and backdrops; Disney never throws anything away, so it's all there somewhere. Heck, they brought back Captain Eo and that was pure garbage, so they could bring back something nice.

I wholeheartedly agree! I would go back for that over and over. They do throw lots of things away though. Horizons was completely demolished and nothing survives but our memories and bad quality videos. I can't believe Disney didn't take good quality films of their own attractions.

I totally agree...put it back the way it was!! My family loved the original and miss it!

I haven't been to Epcot and experienced this first hand but it was really interesting learning about Figment. He looks so cute! I love older rides and feel like this ride would still really work today. I love the videos on the science portion.

I remember riding this in '92 when I was there with my family and it was a fantastic ride. Sad to see what it has become but I am glad that I got to see it in its prime.

Also please write about Project Gemini or the lost and forgotten Captain Nemo ride from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Both deserve their little place in history. Fantastic column!

Yes, it may needed to have been updated, but the basis was still true - how to turn on your imagination. It was a delightful way to get everyone to think about trying new things. I used your ideas to get children to think and brain storm in my classroom. I get the problem, but now what is lost is too much. No others will learn how to turn on their imaginations, and how it's okay to try new things, and that even if you don't succeed the first time, it's all about TRYING, and learning through trying! Such a precious concept presented in such a wonderful, friendly way, now LOST. Please bring back the original basis. This journey has now become BORING which is NOT the message Disney should want to send.

Really great article. I still have the figment cap (complete with steer horns) that my parents got me on my first visit when I was 3 years old. I'm 27 now but just purchased the figment hoodie with wings that they sell in the shop now.

I loved the original figment and Dreamfinder. It was part of Epcot ( the future) and how things came about. I don't find that to be true now though. Everything is amusement riding, not focused on achievements of technology. I am so disappointed. For a year I wondered where I had seen water snakes coming out of one hole and going into another and the building was so out of this world. Figment was special. It showed kids that imagination is the start of all things. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Painting with sound on the second floor was another great idea. I had trouble getting my kids away from that and the 3 D movies ( so uncommon then ) were something I only could have imagined. Now they are common everywhere. Start thinking out of the box again. Still loved the old concept

I like the original Figment, but my favorite was Horizons. I was so disappointed to find that it had closed. It embodied the meaning of EPCOT for me!!!!!

Really enjoyed the in-depth review of the Imagination pavilion! I was fortunate to experience all three incarnations of the ride and can't tell you how disappointed I was with the second one (the one that only lasted a year). I was a young father when the ride first opened and felt a little childish buying a Figment doll to put in my office, but I remember telling my wife how inspired I felt by the whole building and how I wanted something to put in my office to remind me of the importance of using my imagination in everything I do. Such was the power of that original ride! That doll remained on display in my office until a couple of years after we returned to WDW and experienced the disappointing second incarnation. I'm gad that Figment has returned now, but it's no where near as inspiring as it once was.

I'd love to see in-depth articles on Horizons, The Living Seas, Project Gemini, etc.

what Didney often forgets is the one on one special moments that can make a day. The Deamfinder with the (spoiler) puppet of Figment was that very special person. He remembered our special needs daughter each year we came back. He went out of his to be nice, and that is exactly what is so lacking now. The Parks are too crowded the staff tired and burnt out.
This was a sweet ride that while later was out of date really could have been modernized.

I still have my miniature replica of Figment from back in the 80's.

I see many of the comments are from people who were children when they first saw Figment. Well I was an adult, and while I agree with the nostalgia of the ride, the message and the part Figment had to play in that message was the important part (that's what I get for being married to a teach for over 30 years lol). Figment still captures children, especially the fun loving original version, and I think people, including Disney, depend too much on modern technology when it comes to entertainment for kids. Children still devour books when given the opportunity. They still like to just run and play. They still just love the simple games with friends. They still play with dolls and trucks. And they still love to learn and be creative. And Figment and Journey into Imagination are perfect for that. Let the Imagineers use their creativity (wonder how many got that first itch at EPCOT) and build on what was a wonderful pavilion built by former Imagineers.

What's the difference in OU and WDW for me today? UO has me excited for the present and future, while WDW makes me want to go back in time to my first visit in 92. I really miss that Disney. Where maintenance was top notch, rides were being built and there was a cohesive and coherent vision throughout.

Right around the time that I started my first real "grown-up" job I took the yearly trip to Disney with my family and bought a purple Figment coffee cup for my desk.

Thanks for the article. I love Figment since I was little and I still do love him. I cried when they closed down to build the second version. Figment is the only reason why I still go to Epcot. He like me is different and a fun loving weirdo. I never liked princesses etc. I love his childlike personally and childlike innocence that today is missing. I teased, bullied and abused as a child was and is the good part of my childhood. I planning on going down in November to see my old friend Figment for my 41st birthday.

Imagination was by far my favorite pavilion, and I visited with my familymany times from EPCOT's first year through the present. As a lifelong "creative type," coming around that bend into the Art room, with the whole landscape of white "paper" cutouts lit beautifully by colored dancing lights, my heart soared every time. That room, to me, was the very embodiment of imagination--ideas waiting to take shape and dimension, just dancing together in the mind. That little hill as you entered, from which it looked like you could see these shapes from miles before you slipped down among them--though it wasn't a thrill-hill, my entire being seemed to lift in joy as though I could float out over the room and drink it all in. My God, I loved that moment, and can still vividly recall it to this day.

As an only child born in 1980, my entire early life was spent in my own imagination. The Walt Disney World and Epcot of the 80s and early 90s was a haven for this, And I treasure the memories I have of the parks during that time. Thank you themepark tourist for helping me relive those wonderful memories

This was my first Attractions job. I started working HISTA/Image in '95. It was a horrendously boring rotation, but the people were great and there were so many places in the ride to just "disappear" for awhile. There was a hidden "Bonnie Appetite" animatronic head hidden in the ride, and of course you all know about, "Mickey is a..." sound effect.

I used to have reoccurring nightmares in the 80s that the Dreamfinder was trying to break into my house!! LOL!

I visited WDW twice in the 80s with the family and Journey Into Imagination was by far my favorite pavilion at EPCOT. When taking my own family in 2014, I was severely disappointed by the New version. My kids didn't know the difference but I felt that the new ride and layout just reeked of laziness compared to what came before. The original attraction featured innovative technology that was unique and not found anywhere else. The current version didn't really have anything we hadn't seen in some other kids museum. The old Imageworks was the perfect example of this. Apparently much of the old Imageworks equipment was still on the upper level gathering dust. There are videos on YouTube of the area, and they are eerie. It is so sad that this once great attraction is in the state that it is in, but memories and nice pieces like this article keep it alive.

I miss the old ride. Yeah it my be a bit cheesy but it's better then what there now. And what there now is SO much better then the Eric Idle disaster! I remember coming out of the Eric Idle ride one time and there were cast members taking a survey on how we liked the ride. I was so thrilled to give my answers hoping it would bring Figment back! It work but he wasn't the Figment I loved. Like the article said he was this obnoxious hooligan! I would love for the to revamp the original ride with Dreamfinder and the fun loving Figment. Epcot needs more rides. Most people don't even bother going to Epcot any more because there's nothing there. Especially if you have young children. If you ask people who is the mascot for Epcot most will tell you Figment. That should tell the people at Disney something.

Such a great article! Thank you for researching and sharing. I was 2 when EPCOT opened and I definitely have some memories of the original ride. My kids love the current version but I agree an updated version of the original would be great!

This was an amazing article! I liked learning about Tony Baxter and his inspiration for Figment (Magnum?!). My very first stuffed animal buddy was Figment. My parents have even told me a story of when I was a toddler and decided to see if Figment could "swim" on it's a small world! I have always held a special place in my heart for Figment. The original ride was amazing and I whole heartedly miss Dreamfinder. I have read the comic series and have enjoyed it! I love that Figment is still the character symbol of events such as Flower and Garden or Food and Wine. I would love to see them return to the original ride!

I love Figment!! My first trip to DisneyWorld was 1988 I was only 4 so my memory of it isn't great except a few very vivid memories of Epcot especially Figment

A couple of years after JIYI opened, there was some Figment merchandise in the after-ride store. People would look at it and say "What's a Figment?".... ouch.

I took my family three times to WDW starting around 2006. And never had the chance to view the original ride. By the time we went it was the latest version which I see now went through some pretty drastic changes.

This whole thing with Disney turning Journey into Imagination into the way it is now is a joke. The original version is tons better compared to what they did to it. They should never have change something that didn't need to be fixed. It was already bad enough that Dreamfinder had been missing for almost 20 years, but the concept of what imagination is truly about being diminished just pushes my buttons.

Inside Out should not enter the Imagination Pavilion with even a teeny tiny step. Their story is based on the emotions that happen in the human mind. With the exception having an Imagination Land with Figment there as a cameo, the human mind cannot react to their emotions without imagination. If anything, it should either be placed in one of the other Future World buildings, get discarded COMPLETELY, or if it must stay in Epcot just build a new building to house it.

I have to agree with the writer of this article about Journey Into YOUR Imagination. The idea of having the ride show you that you don't have imagination at the beginning of the ride is just insulting. EVERYONE has imagination. As Dreamfinder said, "Imagination is something that belongs to ALL of us." and that "We all have sparks: Imagination!" The way that JIYI is made is NOTHING like how Dreamfinder would have envisioned this pavilion to be. But I think he of all people would be more pissed off of what Disney has made Figment into. Skunk sprays? Smelling armpits? Really? It's true Figment has a sort of mischievous side in him, but THIS is just sick. It's too much! Still, it makes me happy about showing Figment's true colors in the comic books series, which I have in hard book covers and LOVE VERY MUCH! I can't wait for the third on to come out as a trilogy! :D

Also, another thing about Journey Into Your Imagination as well as Journey Into Imagination with Figment, the Anti-Gravity room is a real bust! I'll admit, it's a nice touch. It's just not used in a way that would make the guests and fans get wild about. In JIYI, the room looks boring enough it might as well be you going home so quick from vacation. I mean, what's so imaginative about what they had showcased in that version? They basically just dressed up the house at to what it had looked like within the past 30-40 years. LAME! Still, the design would be kinda nice to actually have in your own home. I'm game to that decision. And then in JIIWF today, the dark light colors where they have Figment living is is way to vibrant. It would have been better if they had made those Figment figure be animatronic and move around a bit. It'd be creepy, still, but hey, it's something.

I've only come to love both Dreamfinder and Figment for about 8 months now after reading both the Marvel comics. And since then, I've come to understand the upmost relativity and importance these two have had in serving their role on behalf of Epcot. When the song says "One Little Spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation," they REALLY MEAN IT! It's not only the ideology of what the Imagineers at Disney go by, it goes that way for everyone! That's what makes Dreamfinder, Figment and Journey Into Imagintion represent. They are the true soul of the park. Without them, what good is every mechanical innovation or every great idea for to create the world as it could be. For 20 years now, the Disney company today has been misinterpreting the ideas and the concepts of what imagination is used for and they need to fix it soon and bring back Dreamfinder with Figment in the process. Otherwise, Epcot is going to go down to straight to hell and thereby putting Walt Disney's dreams of this park into shame (and on the 50th anniversary of his death, too. >:( ).

Pull yourself together, Disney and return what was rightfully everyone's!

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