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

The man behind the imagination

While it didn’t open with the rest of the park in October 1982, the starring attraction for EPCOT’s Imagination pavilion (and indeed, a headlining attraction for the entire park) wasn’t far behind!

What awaited inside the Imagination pavilion is, in large part, from the imagination of Tony Baxter. Baxter – today honored as a Disney Legend with his own window on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland – started working at Disneyland in 1965... selling ice cream part time as a college job.

After designing a Mary Poppins ride for a college senior project, Baxter was noticed by Imagineering (thanks to a few beneficial connections) and the rest, as they say, is history. Baxter’s story is the kind all Disney Fans long for – to suddenly be swept into Imagineering and design rides that are celebrated and beloved for generations. A poster child for the "next generation" of Imagineers who moved in to design Walt Disney World, Baxter is indeed a wonder and a creative force who shaped Disney Parks unto today.

By 1979, Baxter (under the guidance of his mentor, Claude Coats) had overseen the design and opening of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland. He would later oversee the fabled re-model of Disneyland’s Fantasyland in 1983, the opening of Splash Mountain, the astounding Indiana Jones Adventure, and the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage with dozens of other headlining projects interspersed.

A sort of career highlight (in a career made almost entirely of highlights), Baxter was eventually selected as the creative lead for the creation of Disneyland Paris. He brilliantly oversaw the park's more romantic, European storytelling that created brand new versions of Disney classics... So when you hear Disney Parks fans praise the French park as the most beautiful, thoughtful, storied park on Earth, realize it's Tony Baxter they ought to thanks.

A modern Renaissance man of Imagineering, Tony Baxter scored home run after home run and is responsible for many of the modern wonders in Disney Parks (and many more wonders that never made it, like the seaside, steampunk, Jules Verne inspired land officially announced for Disneyland, but never built. We chronicled the in-depth story in a standalone feature, Possibilityland: Discovery Bay). 

But in the early 1980s, Tony’s project was at EPCOT. 

The Land – Take 1

Originally, Baxter was tasked with designing The Land pavilion, and mock-ups and models of Baxter’s version are astounding: he imagined a glass mountain made up of seven crystals and prisms, showcasing five different environments, plus an agricultural and urban section. The Land’s thesis, in a sense, was to cast us as protectors of nature by understanding its beauty and complexity. The pavilion would’ve included a rotating restaurant that gave the impression of being high in the branches of a tree. 

The headlining attraction, though, would’ve been an incredible dark ride sending guests soaring through ecosystems in hot air balloons suspended from the ceiling. Called Blueprints of Nature, the ride would’ve begun on a mountaintop during the winter, following the melting snow down through various ecosystems and the four seasons. In the big finale, the balloons would’ve soared through the crystal towers and over the massive, real habitats that guests would then be able to visit on foot. 

So why wasn’t this wondrous vision of The Land pavilion brought to life? Simple – sponsorship.

In 1978 – early on in EPCOT Center's design – the logging company that had originally signed on to sponsor The Land dropped out, and Kraft Foods stepped in to take over financing. While Baxter's ideas might've been stunning, Kraft's expertise wasn't in ecosystems. Rather than focusing on habitats and environmental protection, Kraft wanted their version of The Land pavilion to focus on agriculture and farming – a much more fitting message for that company. Hence, The Land’s final three attractions (Listen to the Land, Kitchen Kabaret, and Symbiosis) focused heavily on agriculture, nutrition, pollination, and harvesting.

But don’t worry. Tony Baxter was not out of a job.

The empty plot of land next to the under-construction Land pavilion was ear-marked for the park's next pavilion. The topic hadn't been decided yet, but the sponsor had. Long-time Disney partner Kodak had been a resort-wide sponsor in photography. Kodak sponsored the dozens of film shops around the property (stocked with Kodak film, disposable cameras, and photo processing services), Kodak Photo Spots arranged at key vantage points around the resort, and even the complimentary park guide maps positioned at each park's entrance.

As part of their larger partnership, Kodak would sponsor whatever pavilion ended up on the expansion pad south of The Land. Their only request was that whatever Disney Imagineers designated as the pavilion's theme, the contents of the pavilion be “very imaginative.”

Image: Nick Hubbard, Flickr (license)

Coming together

With the call to imaginative arms in place, Tony and his fellow Imagineers got to work. Believe it or not, it started not with the story, but with its characters. Baxter came up with the rough idea of a machine that traveled around the world collecting “sparks of imagination,” and a kindly, jovial inventor who piloted the device. Based on concepts from the never-built Possibilityland: Discovery Bay that Baxter had designed for Disneyland, the idea of Dreamfinder was born.

But Dreamfinder alone wasn’t enough.

Tony said, "The story needed to describe the complex process in an engaging, interactive way without seeming like a lecture. A persona was needed to give the process personality, but having a human character seemed too selective. A friendly imaginary being that could delight in the wonders of imagination would be more inclusive." In other words, guests needed someone more whimsical to bring the idea of imagination to life.

Supposedly, Tony was watching an episode of the 1980s television series Magnum P.I. when lightning struck. Magnum had left a goat in Higgins’ yard, where it had eaten all the grass. After Higgins complained, Magnum told him that the goat must’ve been a figment of his imagination. Higgins replied, “Figments don’t eat grass!”

Image: Disney

And so, Dreamfinder’s companion Figment was born. With a little tweaking of a Steve Kirk concept (above) by X Atencio (lyricist behind "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)") to make the dragon “lovable, in a way that kids could relate to,” Figment became a childlike purple dragon with goat horns, innocent naïveté, and endless musical enthusiasm for dreaming.

United at last, Imagineers got to work on a story. Together, Dreamfinder and Figment would take guests on a journey through the imaginary landscapes of Art, Literature, Performing Arts, and Science – all invaluable catalysts to imagination. 

Image: Disney

Are you ready to Journey Into Imagination? On the next page, we’ll walk you through the ride from beginning to end! Let the imagination begin! 

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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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