Like so many of EPCOT Center's pavilions, the Imagination! pavilion is made of many different components, each meant to tell a piece of the story. That's why a generation of Future World fans can't think of those gleaming glass pyramids without also daydreaming of the leaping, laminar-flow water fountains that almost-inexplicably leap over the gardens of Imagination! Or of the hypnotic "upside-down" waterfall it features, with water magically "falling up," cresting over the top of a basin against pyramid sculptures!
It features multiple attractions, too! Depending on the timing of your visit, the Magic Eye Theater may be showing "Magic Journeys," "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience," or the star-studded Lost Legend: Captain EO, while the ImageWorks is a digitial playground of interactive technologies brought to EPCOT by the pavilion's sponsor, Kodak.
Like all Future World pavilions, the headliner here is an epic, oversized, elaborate dark ride. Unlike its counterparts in Energy, The Living Seas, or World of Motion, there's no industry to explore. Instead, Journey into Imagination is a blissful, emotional, musical trip through the process of being inspired.
Step in through the pavilion's main entrance and you'll find yourself in a circular, sunlit lobby with a spiral staircase at its center. The room is surrounded in pastel murals, with a continuously-moving line of purple sleighs advancing around the corner, disappearing into the dark.
Naturally, to take a trip into imagination, you’ll need the right mode of transportation. Those two-row, pastel purple vehicles might not look familiar, but the technology probably is. The ride's purple cabs are really a modified version of Disney's patented Omnimover (most famously used on the Haunted Mansion and EPCOT's own Spaceship Earth), with each cab cleverly able to rotate during the ride. That gives Imagineers the real-life power equivalent of a camera, angling guests in desired directions!
But as these unique vehicles enter into the ride, their special ability takes flight. Floating within a glowing cloud bank, four cabs at a time advance a little more quickly, separating themselves out from the slow-moving chain still picking up new dreamers. These four-cab trains turn to see something unusual silhouetted through the cotton clouds: a peculiar kind of zephyr with the shadow of a man at the helm...
And listen... he seems to be whistling along to a tinkling, synthesizer tune.. That unmistakable melody is “One Little Spark,” the ride’s beloved 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 many other memorable Disney Parks tunes.) The melody dances along and lights pulse to the tune of the song as the zephyr floats alongside us, seemingly separated only by a cloud between...
Then, we float out of the cloud bank and into the sunset, coming face-to-face at last with the Dreamcatcher. As the clouds part, we find ourselves turning toward the most unusual contraption we've ever seen... Through various unusual appendages, the zephyr seems to be vacuuming in various objects as the man sings along, his zephyr glowing and changing with each new catch.
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!
“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. “A-ha! 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!”
Spectacularly, the first few minutes of our 12 minute flight will be spent here, idling alongside the gliding Dreamfinder. It's made possible by a brilliant secret of Imagineering... Our cabs are indeed still continuously moving along, progressing around a large, circular turntable hidden in the center of the showbuilding. It's just that the Dreamfinder is along for the ride, with the turntable containing his scene (and four other identical copies) rotating at exactly the same rate! This allows us an extended, one-on-one, multi-minute interaction with him, even on this continuously-moving ride system! (A similar technological idea powers Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey... can you figure out how?)
“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!
And indeed, from the pressure cooker attached to the Dreamcatcher rises Figment, an adorable, purple dragon, wide-eyed, breathless, and innocent. "Dreamfinder, I'm just right!"
"Uh, uh uh! Not quite! I'll throw in a dash of childish delight! Look, Figment, some new friends have joined us."
"Can they imagine, too?!"
"Of course! Imagination in something that belongs to all of us! And every sparkling idea can lead to even more! So many times, we're stumbling in the dark, and then, Eureka! What a spark!"
As Figment catches on, he begins collecting ideas for the four Realms of Imagination we'll visit together: Literature, Art, Performing Arts, and Science... "Numbers, letters, papers for writing! Costumes, make-ups, stages for lighting! Science?! We'll need electron beams and crystal prisms, gyroscopes and magnetisms!"
Ah, but Figment has gotten carried away! Dreamfinder announces that the Dreamcatcher's idea bag 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!”
We all have sparks – imaginations! That's how our minds create creations! A dream can be a dream come true, With just that spark from me and you!
The trains disengage from the turntable, parting at last from the Dreamcatcher. Instead, we glide into the Dreamport, 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 emits the smell of flowers.
Ideas, inspirations, and ideas... The "sparks" we collect each and every day are added to our collection, aren't they? But with them dropped off and the Dreamcatcher ready for more, it’s time to press on into the four realms of Imagination.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
“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. In a triumphant finale reprise, it all comes together:
We all have sparks – imaginations! That's how our minds create creations! For they can make our wildest dreams come true, Those magic sparks in me and you!
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. Despite Kodak's sponsorship, the hard truth is that videography wasn't quite as adept in 1998 as it is today, so while the video may be a bit dark, we have no doubt your imagination can fill in the gaps...
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 (within 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.
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 "permanent" World's Fair pavilion.
Except it wasn't so permanent after all. 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…