Disney’s cheapskate take on Journey into YOUR Imagination wasn’t worth the money saved. The ride was outright rejected by guests and fans alike. So much vitriol was shared that Disney saw fit to close the unimaginative replacement shortly after the Millennium Celebration’s finale.
Consider just how bad it really must’ve been for Disney to concede and close the despised ride forever after such a short lifetime. After barely two years, Journey into YOUR Imagination was gone for good. It closed on October 8, 2001. The Imagination pavilion was short its shortened and short-sighted dark ride. But not for long.
Journey into Imagination With Figment
On June 2, 2002 – just six months after the closure of Journey into YOUR Imagination – the pavilion’s dark ride re-opened as the long-winded Journey into Imagination With Figment. The name change was a white flag – a rare admission of guilt on Disney’s behalf, announcing the triumphant return of the purple dragon that never should have left, idealized by fans as creativity incarnate and held as an icon of Epcot. It was a signal to guests that the ride inside the glass pyramids was worth taking another look at, and certainly fans readied themselves for a changed ride.
Some things have changed – for example, the random “Experiments” of Journey into YOUR Imagination have been cleaned up and re-organized into Sensory Labs (a much more logical narrative) as we travel through the Hearing Lab, Smell Lab, and Vision Lab. While its physical track layout remains the slashed version that debuted with the 1999 misstep, an extra show-stop make the ride a smidge longer: six minutes (which is still a cough compared to the 12 minute original).
The first major change strikes right away. The Imagination Scanner is gone. That means that those who enjoyed being teased about their lack of imagination are out of luck. Instead, our introduction to the Imagination Institute is via five logos projected on screens, representing the Institute's five labs: sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste. As the Omnimovers align with the five screens, Dr. Channing appears again. But this time, his plan is a little different. He wants us to "see that the five human senses can help to capture imagination!"
That's when Figment arrives via a CGI animation, carrying a packed suitcase as if returning from vacation. "Oh, oh, can I go too?!" He chirps.
“Absolutely not!” Dr. Channing insists, turning back to riders. “This is one of my discoveries, the Figment of Imagination. And Figment, you are not to interfere with the tour!” But Figment doesn’t take no for an answer. After a few gross-out gags (licking Dr. Channing, sniffing his armpit, and hitting a high note to shatter his comical glasses), he commandeers the tour and leads riders onward.
Here’s the thing: Figment is back in the ride as far more than a cameo. But it’s not really the triumphant return fans pled for. Unfortunately, Figment is simply inserted into the uninspired (and dare we say, unimaginative?) Imagination Institute storyline. Indeed, the ride is still a pretty sterile “tour” of the institute’s open house alongside Dr. Nigel Channing.
Secondly, Figment is far from the dreamy dragon of the original ride. In fact, he’s reborn here as a pest, determined to derail our tour. While putting an end to the Imagination Institute is a noble goal, he goes about it by annoyingly terrorizing riders. To prove to Channing that “hearing with your imagination” is more important than “hearing with your ears,” he calls (literally) on a telephone, then invites the “Train of Thought” to show us how our imaginations can come to life.
In the Sight Lab, he interrupts by dashing the letters off of the eye chart (a not-too-cleverly-disguised video screen).
In the Smell Lab, he commandeers a massive odor tank and brings it to life as a slot machine, and lands (unfortunately for us) on triple-skunk, spraying riders with an unpleasant smell (actually burnt coffee).
As the doors to the Touch and Taste Labs loom, Dr. Channing decides that, given the chaos Figment has wrought, we’re best to skip the rest of the tour (perhaps a subtle and heart-wrenching reminder that half of the ride’s track has been severed). But Figment isn’t done yet – if we really want to “turn this open house upside down,” we’ll need to visit Figment’s home (a disconnected attempt to re-use the old Gravity Lab inverted house, now painted in blacklight neon colors; Figment's face is painted on the old Packard in the garage, day-glow flowers are painted on the toilet, and static mannequins of Figment are affixed to the ceiling... it's a little odd).
Figment's pranks and the wonders we've seen in the three Sensory Labs are enough to win over Dr. Channing. As the Omnimovers align with five more screens, he appears again. "And so, as you can plainly see, imagination works best with it's set free!"
"You said it, Doc!" Figment flutters in. "Imagination is a blast!"
With a blast of air from behind and a flash of light, the walls sink away. This time, though, the lights come up to reveal an enlightening diorama of Figment cutouts and mannequins conquering summits, riding flying carpets, and creating rainbows – the closest this ride gets to the optimism and light that made the original so beloved.
Figment’s return – even in this less honorable form – is a step in the right direction. And “One Little Spark” returns throughout the ride, too, though as you’d expect, it’s in modified form with entirely new lyrics. Check out the video below to see if you can catch what changed between the 1999 ride and its 2002 reinvention. Better yet, see if you can spot what stayed the same!
To be confusingly clear, Journey into Imagination With Figment is still a sad, sorry, pitiful, heartless replacement for Journey into Imagination, but it’s markedly better than Journey into YOUR Imagination. But the whole mess has fans wondering…
The truth is, we have no clue what’s next for the Imagination pavilion. We do know that it will likely coincide with the complete overhaul to Epcot that CEO Bob Iger referenced at 2016’s D23 conference.
Remember earlier when Disney faced a crossroads with Epcot:
- Infuse characters throughout the park?
- Make it a thrill park of pseudo-science?
- Return to its roots of grand, optimistic, informative futurism?
We’re here again, and insiders say this time, Disney will see it through. The hinted-at foundational redesign of Future World is allegedly on track to cost more than the floor-to-ceiling rebuild that fundamentally fixed another Disaster File: Disney’s California Adventure. And honestly, the park needs it. Self-serious ‘80s dark rides comingle with modern, brainless thrills, and characters have overtaken some pavilions but not others while two whole pavilions sits closed entirely, and the whole thing has lost the cohesion and master planning that made EPCOT Center a Mecca for Imagineering fans.
So what happens to Imagination? We suppose it depends which of those three paths the park takes now:
An infusion of character? Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out is a shoe-in, and it could easily populate the dark ride, the pavilion’s 3D theater, and the wasted post-show interactive exhibit area with the “Imagination” moniker still in place.
If Epcot becomes a thrill park? In our minds, the pyramids would shatter. If Epcot loses the brilliant simplicity of “energy, sea, land, imagination, communication, space, transportation,” etc. – the thing that makes COSI a 21st century rebirth of the EPCOT concept – then stick a fork in Imagination. It’s over. A Guardians of the Galaxy coaster here (or anywhere in Future World) breaks the already-weakened chain and fundamentally redefines Epcot forever. And maybe that’s what executives want.
But there’s always option three: a return to storied roots. Sign us up for the 21st century version of the Journey into Imagination refresh we should’ve gotten in 1999, now plussed by 2017 technology. Even now, nearly two decades after the original ride’s disappearance, guests still clamor for Dreamfinder and Figment to return. That says something, doesn’t it? They still feel current. They still seem relevant. They’re still loved.
In our in-depth series of Disaster Files, we’ve seen broken technologies shutter rides that could’ve soared, seen thoughtless character overlays threaten classics, and watched shrinking budgets decimate projects. But this kind of story is by far the worst – to see a ride deserving of Lost Legend status fall. And not just any kind of fall… a debilitating fall to a disastrous replacement.
Despite fans’ nostalgia and optimism, we may never see Dreamfinder and Figment again. The good news is, we’re unlikely to see the Imagination Institute survive whatever comes next to Epcot’s Imagination pavilion.
Even if the short-lived Journey into YOUR Imagination marked a low-point and a perfect storm in the history of Epcot and Imagineering as a whole, it also marked a turning point… a rare instance of Disney second-guessing its decision, admitting defeat, and restoring what it could to appease guests who deserved better – a trend that’s also saved us from Disaster Files: Stitch’s Great Escape, Superstar Limo, and The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management.
They say those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. All we can hope from our Disaster Files series is that we, as fans, learn the patterns and see the mistakes early enough to preempt them; to speak our minds; and to inspire a new generation of Imagineers and executives to make better choices. That’s what we plead for in our Lost Legends: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror entry, as we watch Disney do to California Adventure what the loss of Journey into Imagination did to Epcot – to fundamentally disrupt the careful story that a generation fell in love with. Journey into Imagination is gone… but so is Journey into YOUR Imagination. Things can change if we only look at the past and learn from it.
The frustrating story of Journey into YOUR Imagination is just one entry in our In-Depth Collections Library. Make the jump there to pick up with another in-depth tale!
Let us know – what other disastrous rides from Disney and beyond should we share next? We’re always excited to hear your thoughts.