Home » One Little Spark: How Epcot’s Journey into Imagination Inspired a Generation

One Little Spark: How Epcot’s Journey into Imagination Inspired a Generation

World of Motion. Body Wars. Kitchen Kabaret. Universe of Energy. The Living Seas. Horizons… For Disney World fans, there’s no park as marked by nostalgia, change, and loss as Epcot. And yet, among its staggering collection of closed classics, there’s one particular attraction that most fills fans with both immense sadness and glowing hope…

“One little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation! Right at the start of everything that’s new, one still spark lights up for you!”

Journey into Imagination was one of the most beloved attractions ever conceived by Disney’s Imagineers. Among the grounded, industrious, scientific studies of Future World’s other pavilions, this generation-defining Disney classic dared to carried guests away from our world on a flight of fancy alongside two of the most beloved and enigmatic characters ever created for Disney Parks. Alight with optimism, this magnificent celebration of creativity and inspiration was an icon of EPCOT Center. 

Art by Tom Morris. Image: Disney

Journey into Imagination is long gone. That means that a generation of Disney Parks fans never had the chance to take flight with Dreamfinder and Figment, or to sail through realms of art and science on a quest for “sparks.” But that’s where our library of Lost Legends comes in… Today, we’ll soar through the clouds as we preserve this timeless experience for good, crystalizing the creation of this spectacular closed classic, our memories (and yours!) of the experience on board, and its unfortunate history since…

Ready to set sail for the Dreamport? Let’s start at the beginning.

World Innovation

Image: Disney

It’s well known among fans of Disney history that Walt Disney was an innovator. Never satisfied with standing still, the opening of Disneyland in 1955 only inspired Walt to improve, expand, and reimagine. In fact, the most major milestone in the development of Disney Parks in the 1960s didn’t happen in Anaheim or even Orlando, but at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair in Queens.

For literally centuries, World’s Fairs have been iconic international expos inviting governments (and later, corporations) from around the world to come together in a chosen host country to celebrate their cultures, cuisines, innovations, and ideas. 1889’s Exposition Universelle, for example, was hosted in Paris, with the “temporary” Eiffel Tower constructed as its icon; see also, San Francisco’s 1915 hosting with the Palace of the Fine Arts, or 1962’s event in Seattle, comissioning the central Space Needle. 

Notice the size of the people standing around the Unisphere. Image: PLCjr, Flickr (license)

The New York World’s Fair is perhaps one of the most well-known in history. By its 1964 opening, these international expos had evolved into their definitive form: massive, monumental pavilions constructed and filled by states, countries, and corporations eager to share their message and brand with visitors from around the globe. And in the spirit of these showcases of optimism, collaboration, and futurism, each corporation wanted something magnficent for their pavilion.

Take the UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) pavilion, sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. As the story goes, Pepsi’s Board of Directors debated for months about what kind of attraction they should develop to both bolster Pepsi’s brand as well as to complement the unifying message of UNICEF. As luck would have it, board member Joan Crawford (widow of Pepsi’s former president) was fed up with the debate and asked her personal friend Walt Disney if he’d get involved and design an attraction for the pavilion.

Image: Disney

The result was “it’s a small world,” an Imagineering masterpiece made of all the right ingredients: a Sherman Brothers song, the incredible artistic vision of Imagineer Mary Blair, and an innovative, high-capacity new ride system! And so it went for attractions developed for the State of Illinois, Ford Motor Company, and General Electric, each funding the testing, development, and prototyping of new technologies that, at the close of the Fair, were relocated along with “small world” back to Disneyland (as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Lost Legends: The Peoplemover and Carousel of Progress, respectively).

Remember the lessons learned through Disney’s sponsored participation and innovation in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair… it’ll be important.

“The Blessing of Size”

Tap for a larger and more detailed view. Image: Disney

Disney’s innovations at the World’s Fair propelled Disneyland forward. The groundbreaking advances made in Audio-Animatronics and ride systems in the era aren’t just responsible for the World’s Fair attractions themselves, but for Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Walt’s New Tomorrowland.

But it’s also true that, hemmed in by the urban sprawl that developed around Disneyland in the ’50s and ’60s, Walt set his sights on acquiring a much larger parcel of land in Central Florida, gifting his designers with “the blessing of size” in creating something new. But the “Florida Project” wasn’t about building a new Disneyland. In fact, Walt was unapologetically determined to change modern living as we know it.

Image: Disney

In 1966, Walt revealed his plans for the “Florida Project” and its centerpiece: E.P.C.O.T. – the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt planned for EPCOT to be a real, living, functioning showcase of future living; an urban and residential town that would apply the transportation technologies he’d merely prototyped at Disneyland – the Peoplemover and Monorail. In fact, it’s said that, as Walt lay in his hospital bed just before his death in 1966, he was still looking up, using the squared ceiling tiles as a grid to explain the layout of his EPCOT city.

Walt didn’t live to see the “Florida Project” come to life. Without his visionary guidance and zeal, the new leadership at Walt Disney Productions decided they couldn’t be in the business of building a city from scratch. Instead, the centerpiece of Walt Disney World’s 1971 opening was, of course, Magic Kingdom – an evolution of the original Disneyland.

Image: Disney

However, the core concepts of Walt’s EPCOT – among them, futurism, Americana, and the power of industry – did inform Walt Disney World. And when it came time to open a second theme park on the property, then-CEO Card Walker returned to the principles of EPCOT in the design of the new gate; one that would do away with all that people expected of Disney (like princess, pirates, castles, and cartoons). 

In a radical shift from the Magic Kingdoms that preceeded it, EPCOT Center would be grounded in celebrations of industry, innovation, culture, and (most startling of all) reality – a permanent World’s Fair showcasing human achievements with a lofty mission to shape the world.

Not like the others

Image: Disney

EPCOT Center would open with two massive “realms” pressed together like a figure eight a cultural World Showcase of corporate-sponsored pavilions of international countries, and Future World, comprised of monumental pavilions, each dedicated to areas of science and industry.

But it was more than just the park’s “pavilion” structure that served as a World’s Fair connection; it was also its finances. EPCOT Center relied on corporate sponsors to adopt the park’s pavilions. At least at first, it must’ve seemed like a win-win scenario. In exchange for their ongoing financial support, corporations would play a role in shaping the messaging of Disney-designed attractions, earning the “good will” of having their brand name presented alongside Walt Disney World. And since those corporations wouldn’t want their brands presented alongside outdated information, they’d be inherently motivated to supply the pavilion’s with their cutting edge research and most forward-thinking products.

At Future World’s height, it contained eight pavilions (each with its own related corporate sponsor!) dedicated to communication (Spaceship Earth), ocean exploration (The Living Seas), agriculture (The Land), transportation (World of Motion), health (Wonders of Life), energy resources (Universe of Energy), innovation (Communicore), and a capstone pavilion bringing them all together to dream of humanity’s future (Horizons).

Image: Disney

But if Horizons is where our path forward leads, then Imagination is where it begins. Spectacularly, Future World’s Imagination pavilion was identified by its two interlaced glass pyramids (constructed seven years before I. M. Pei’s famed Pyramide du Louvre in Paris, by the way). This shimmering Imagination pavilion looked quite unlike the colder, concrete structures that defined the monumental Future World… Waterfalls, fountains, glowing towers, and gardens… This outlier was indeed something special; warmer; gentler.

And think about it: while the concept of “imagination” hardly fits with the “harder” industries and technologies of the rest of EPCOT, its inclusion is genius! Without it, there would be no advances in communication for Spaceship Earth to showcase; no emerging technology in Communicore; no culinary wonders in The Land… Imagination is the root of science, industry, and civilization; the first ingredient in creating “the future.” 

Image: Disney

While the concept and the building were indeed novel, it’s what – and who – they found inside the two glass pyramids that Disney Fans recall so fondly. How did Disney designers decide on the iconic Dreamfinder and Figment? On the next page, we’ll see how Journey into Imagination pavilion came to be…

Origins of Imagination

One particular Imagineer is often cited as the mastermind behind Journey into Imagination: Disney Legend (and fan-favorite) Tony Baxter. In fact, Journey into Imagination is just one of a dozen headlining projects typically credited to his portfolio (alongside Magic Kingdom’s Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues, Star Tours, Big Thunder Mountain, and the Modern Marvel: Indiana Jones Adventure). 

Image: Disney

Of course, one of Tony Baxter’s most legendary projects is one that never got built. Had Baxter’s vision come to life, Big Thunder Mountain would’ve been only a piece of a larger expansion at Disneyland, culminating in an entirely new land. Plans called for this new land to expand Frontierland’s story by showing guests exactly what happened to those miners who’d struck it rich in Big Thunder’s gold deposits by continuing West to a retro-futuristic, steampunk-stylized San Franscisco…

Discovery Bay would’ve been a living, literary port of inventors, eccentrics, authors, and immigrants who’d constructed a seaside Victorian city of zephyrs, submarines, lighthouses, and oddities. We took an in-depth look at the would-be history of this never-built land in its own Possibilityland: Discovery Bay feature a true must-read for Disney Parks fans.

Image: Disney

Of particular importance to us is one of the more clever, original experiences envisioned for Discovery Bay: an Audio-Animatronic show called Professor Marvel’s Gallery of Illusion. A young Imagineer named Steve Kirk was assigned to work on the Gallery attraction, giving initial shape to the title character… and a pet dragon he carried.

The Land – Take 1

Now of course, Discovery Bay was never built. (The space at Disneyland it was set to inhabit stayed empty for decades, though, before eventually becoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.) But it’s often said that good ideas never die at Disney, and that’s especially true here. Steve Kirk recalled to WDW Radio in 2008 that by 1976, designers across WED Enterprises had been pulled away from other projects to focus on the looming opening of EPCOT Center. Each lead Imagineer was assigned a corporation with whom they could co-develop a pavilion. 

Image: retrowdw.com

Though Disney had a sense for the topics they intended to cover, the design and contents of each pavilion would be shaped in part by the whims of the sponsoring organization. As the story goes, a logging company had signed on as sponsors of The Land pavilion, with Tony Baxter assigned as the project lead. Together, they envisioned a spectacular pavilion celebrating the Earth’s ecosystems. (Never mind the seeming contradiction of a logging company aligning its brand with a celebration of forests… an inherent flaw in the sponsorship model, to be sure.) 

Mock-ups and models of Baxter’s version are astounding (and not surprisingly, mirror impressive elements of the cancelled Discovery Bay): he imagined the pavilion taking the form of a glass mountain made up of seven crystalline prismatic towers, each housing one of five different habitats 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. 

Image: Disney 

In fact, Baxter’s initial idea for The Land even adapted the Professor Marvel character initially designed for Discovery Bay. Working off the concept, Tony and his team even developed a central figure whose presence and narration could be felt throughout each attraction within: the Landkeeper.

The headlining attraction, narrated by the Landkeeper, would’ve been a suspended dark ride with guests seated in hot air balloons passing through spectacularly scaled dark ride scenes. 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 out of the auxilliary dark ride showbuilding and into the crystal towers, floating through the canopies of the real habitats guests were walking through below.

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 and messaging 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, Symbiosis, and the Lost Legend: Kitchen Kabaret) focused heavily on agriculture, nutrition, and harvesting.

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


Instead, Baxter and his team began considering new ideas for attractions that would fit within Future World’s industrious and educational line-up… A-ha! Given that drafts for Discovery Bay had become sketches for the Land which would now inspire another idea, and that the kindly, inventive, professor character had been carried through each, it’s appropriate that the team began to consider an EPCOT-style attraction based on something a little more abstract than oceans or agriculture or transportation: where ideas come from.

And according to Kirk, “I think Tony had the idea that new ideas are the product of collecting old ideas and then synthesizing them into a third new product… That was kind of the basic premise of the storyline. So the idea of some kind of a metaphor for gathering creative ideas or even natural things or other concepts that had been existing before, recombining them, was the angle.” 

Image: Disney

Kirk tidied up old sketches of Professor Marvel and his dragon, resulting in the a white-bearded, monocled Dreamfinder and his little green dragon, Figment; characters that just might come in handy for another of Future World’s pavilions, should a sponsor be interested. And wouldn’t you know it? One was.

The empty plot of land next to the under-construction Land pavilion was earmarked for another 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 for years. 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.

Image: Nick Hubbard, Flickr (license)

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 something “very imaginative.”

The proposal seemed like the perfect application of the Dreamfinder and Figment designs. 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 a whimsical, carefree dreamer to bring the idea of imagination to life.

Image: Disney

Again according to Kirk’s recollection, “Tony was in with the Kodak folks as being potential sponsors for some kind of pavilion, and I don’t think he quite knew yet what their tie-in would be. And he ran into my office in the middle of this meeting and said ‘Can I borrow little Figment and Dreamfinder?’ or Figment and . . . yeah, Dreamfinder at the time. And he grabbed it and took it in to them to show it to them, and he said this is the kind of character development we can do as being a host for a pavilion; maybe on Imagination. And they said ‘That’s great. Do we get the dragon, too?’ And Tony said, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.'”

Their only edit? They offered that the green dragon was reminiscent of the logo of their biggest competitor, Fujifilm. Initial character models established by Steve Kirk (above) were further fleshed out by Andy Gaskill and 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.” 

Image: Disney

Voila! 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. By the way, the imaginative duo rank high up on our list of the Greatest Characters Created Just for Disney Parks.

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

Image: Kodak Archives

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!

Image: Disney

“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?)

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

“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, 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!


Image: Disney

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. 


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. 


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.


Image: Disney

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!

Image: Disney

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!”

Image: Disney

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!”


Image: Disney

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.

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 “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…

Falling behind

Image: Disney

When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, it was advertised as the early arrival of the 21st century. The problem is that by the mid-1990s, the actual 21st century was on the horizon… and it didn’t look much like Future World… 

For one thing, Future World was, by design, subject to the same “Tomorrowland Problem” that Disney tends to encounter anytime they attempt to actually, scientifically predict the future – an outright impossible thing to do. Given that Disney had already seen that issue arise in Disneyland and Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowlands by time EPCOT Center was built, designers had to have known that the same race against time would eventually be lost in Future World, too. But in EPCOT, there was a difference…

EPCOT Center’s sponsorship model was supposed to save Future World from falling behind. Remember, that “win-win” World’s Fair model meant that the corporations footing the bill for the park’s pavilions would be motivated to keep the stories, rides, and technologies within up to date lest their own brand reputations be soiled alongside outdated technologies. And as company’s sponsorship deals came up for renewal and Disney began pressing for expensive and elaborate upgrades, sponors balked… and walked…

That’s why, beginning in the mid-’90s, EPCOT Center became Epcot… and things started to change. Disney World’s second gate had, in some ways, doomed itself with its inherent ’80s style (vast, monumental, concrete, barren, pastel pavilions), its (failing) futurism, and its unfortunate pop culture perception as Disney’s “educational” theme park that kids dreaded “wasting” a day at. And given that sponsors up for renewal were either exiting or requesting flashier, modern, thrilling rides, Disney made some big changes.

  • Kraft’s sponsorship of The Land and its Lost Legend: Kitchen Kabaret disappeared at the end of their term in 1993, with new sponsor Nestle necessitating big changes to the pavilion before agreeing to invest.
  • General Motors, meanwhile, could no longer justify sponsoring the Lost Legend: World of Motion that dutifully traced the history of transportation in a stunning dark ride. The only way they’d pay up is if it were swapped in 1996 for the high-energy, buzzy TEST TRACK. 
  • Exxon-Mobil would only support the aging Lost Legend: Universe of Energy if it got a pop culture infusion to become Ellen’s Energy Adventure in 1996 (which closed altogether in 2017).

Image: Disney

  • Without its General Electric sponsorship, even Future World’s capstone Lost Legend: Horizons was razed in 1999 in favor of the relatively brainless Mission: SPACE thrill ride, sponsored by HP.
  • MetLife decided to discontinue its sponsorship for the Lost Legend: Body Wars and the rest of the Wonders of Life pavilion in 2001, after which Disney literally let it die in plain sight without even a reasonable refurbishment for six more years before closing altogether.

In other words, Future World was changing. Across the park, the major, headlining dark rides of each pavilion fell one-by-one. It seemed that every opening day EPCOT Center classic was doomed by way of either a character overlay, replacement with a modern thrill ride, or – perhaps worse – rotting in place. 


Image: Disney

With the new millennium approaching (and Epcot acting as the resort’s hub for the Millennium Celebration), Kodak’s sponsorship contract with Disney kicked in – they would need to invest in the Imagination pavilion if they wanted to retain sponsorship. And frankly, it was probably time! Watching the ride-through on the last page, maybe you agree that new Audio-Animatronics, fresh effects, and a 21st century touch would’ve taken Journey into Imagination to the next level, establishing it for good as a classic on par with Pirates.

The problem is, Kodak had been in a financial tumble for years, reeling from the rise of digital photography and their short-sighted responses to it. In 1999, Kodak cut its employment by a staggering 20%. In the wake of such devestating layoffs, investing big money in a proper Imagination re-do would have Kodak skewered by the media…

Allegedly, Kodak even considered dropping its Disney sponsorship altogether rather than re-doing Imagination… but felt that their long-time competitors, Fujifilm, were buzzards circling the relationship, eager to step in and take over… So with budgets low and time short, Imagineers allegedly considered a ride based on Flubber or even a dark ride through the mind of a celebrity (perhaps a creative cousin of the Declassified Disaster: Superstar Limo?). 

Finally, Imagineers came up with a concept that seemed to sell well to all parties. One executive allegedly said, “If you were in that room hearing the pitch you would have been blown away. You’ll be in this dark room and not be able to tell up from down. You will be surrounded by sound and not know the direction. It was all amazing, sounded state of the art and more importantly guaranteed to give the guests a terrific experience.”

Image: Disney

The new Journey Into YOUR Imagination was given the green light by both budget-conscious Kodak and budget-conscious Disney, who wrapped the sensory fun house ride in an “Imagination Institute” story. The notion of the Imagination Institute signals something Disney fans usually love: continuity. The “Imagination Institute” was also the setting for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience film playing the pavilion’s 3D theater, uniting the two attractions (and thus, the whole pavilion) in one setting and story.

Adding the word YOUR to the ride’s name might not seem like much, but what awaited inside the Imagination pavilion in 1999 made Disney fans gasp… And it’s remembered today as the absolute worst dark ride Disney World has ever hosted… Read on to head inside… 

TAKE 2: Journey Into YOUR Imagination

Image: ckramer, Flickr (license)

When the doors to the re-named Journey Into YOUR Imagination opened just one year later in October 1999, Dreamfinder was nowhere to be found. Neither was “One Little Spark”. Figment made a cameo appearance as a constellation in the background and brief, quickly-shushed voice, but otherwise, Journey Into YOUR Imagination had literally nothing in common with its beloved predecessor. 

Even the ride’s signature, brilliant turntable was decommissioned. In fact, the ride track was physically shortened by 40%, as nearly half of the ride was removed with the track connected via a new bypass. What was once the turntable became the load / unload area (see below) with the newly condensed ImageWorks: What If? Labs relocated from inside the pyramids to be literally be built on the remains of half of the ride. The original 12-minute dark ride had been replaced by a 6-minute one. Seriously. 

Image: Imagineering Disney. Notice how the new version of the attraction boards on what used to be the turntable.


The new Journey Into YOUR Imagination starred Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) as Dr. Nigel Channing, taking guests on a guided tour of the Imagination Institute. As the ride began, an “Imaginator” scanner would scan guests’ minds and display what they were thinking of… which, of course, was cobwebs and “vacancy” signs. The mostly-plotless ride then whisked guests through the darkened Institute and past current “Experiments” designed to kick-start their imaginations.

But if you want to take a full ride through Disney World’s “worst ride ever,” you’ll want to make the jump to our full, in-depth feature exploring the disastrous Imagination Institute inside and out – Declassified Disaster: Journey Into YOUR Imagination

Image: Disney

Fans reacted with absolute outrage at the new ride. Epcot had been famously devoid of Disney characters, so Dreamfinder and Figment had become veritable icons of the park. Now, they were gone, and the charming Imagination ride had become a cold and lifeless “sensory fun house.”

Journey Into YOUR Imagination lasted two years and one week – one of the shortest life spans of any Disney attraction. Then, it closed for a six-month refurbishment. Fans weren’t sure what the ride would look like on the other side, or if it would even reopen for that matter! But it did. Disney had one more trick up its sleeve to inject some energy back into the pavilion.

TAKE 3: Journey Into Imagination With Figment

After a six month closure, the ride re-opened again in June 2002. It’s third version – the current one – is called Journey Into Imagination With Figment. Despite the promising name, the attraction retains the Imagination Institute storyline and Eric Idle’s Dr. Channing character, merely inserting Figment throughout the attraction. Even then, forget the creative dragon with “childish delight” from the original – this Figment is practically a menace, spraying skunk smells and graffiting.

Again, we encourage you to bookmark that  Declassified Disaster: Journey Into YOUR Imagination feature for a complete ride-through of the current attraction, but at the very least, it removed some of the middle version’s worst scenes and re-organized the institute into a logical narrative of “Sensory Labs.” (Of course, Figment derails the trip before the Touch and Taste Labs – perhaps an allusion to half the ride’s track being closed?)

Image: Disney

The current attraction also thankfully repurposes “One Little Spark,” albeit a new version sung by Figment in each Sensory Lab, and a reprise by Dr. Channing once he’s learned the importance of imagination, too.

Basically, Journey Into Imagination With Figment is a quick and cheap answer to a serious problem, arbitrarily re-inserting Figment into the disengaged and half-hearted Imagination Institute storyline. It is better than the horrific middle version? Yes. But what a terrible thought that the “new” Journey into Imagination has been around for 18 years; longer than the 17 year run of the original…

Image: Disney

For those keeping track, the Imagination pavilion today is made of the still-sad Journey into Imagination with Figment, the ImageWorks: “What If?” Labs (relocated from within the pyramids to the space vacated by half the dark ride being shuttered; a Disney Vacation Club lounge took the second floor space instead, above), and the Magic Eye Theater, which has alternated between movie previews and Disney-PIxar short film showings since the closure of the Captain EO Tribute in 2015.

And that leaves Imagination as perhaps the least imaginative pavilion at Epcot, right in the midst of one of the largest theme park transformations ever. What’s next? We’ll explore the options on the next page.

The moral of the story

Image: Disney

It’s easy to vilify Disney for the current state of the Imagination pavilion and the once-loved dark ride inside of it. But here are some things to consider and a few final helpful thoughts:

1)   Imagination did need to change. Even if Kodak hadn’t demanded it, the ride – while nostalgic and beloved – was no longer fit for a spot in a park determined to showcase innovation. Not in its then-current state, at least. And today’s technology could do wonders to tell the story of Dreamfinder, Figment, and the four realms of Imagination.

2)   The “Disney” that did that is not the “Disney” of today. Under immense financial pressure and very different leadership, the demise of Journey Into Imagination was symptomatic of a much larger issue, which has since been largely reversed. Journey just remains a sad reminder of a long-gone era.

3)   Imagineers need to think outside the box. It’s rare today to see Disney green light any major new attraction not tied to an existing and proven intellectual property… which makes some sense! But when Imagineers are allowed to be inspired, they come up with Journey Into Imagination, Mystic Manor, Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror, Alien Encounter… entire worlds! That sort of innovation is what pushes the company forward.

4)   It’s not too late. Even if the version of Figment present in the current Imagination dark ride is a far cry from the original, Figment remains an icon of Epcot, available throughout the park on T-shirts, toys, and maps. People still love that character and his story, as proven by the new Marvel graphic novels and comic books based on (a more Steampunk version of) Dreamfinder and Figment (above). It’s further evidence that the duo stand among the best intellectual properties Disney has ever created… characters worthy of being leveraged in a film, cartoon, Disney+ series, or attraction…

And at the end of the day, if Dreamfinder taught us anything, it’s that any spark can make a difference… And since neither fans nor casual visitors have quite given up on rallying for Dreamfinder and Figment’s return in the two decades since they last explored imagination together, we may be really close to something big changing inside the Imagination pavilion… 

What’s next?

Image: Disney

When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, its interconnected pavilions had set out to tell a story about human achievement and innovation. Imagination, Energy, the Seas, the Land, World of Motion, Spaceship Earth, Wonders of Life, and Horizons were each one piece of a big-picture puzzle, completed only by those who cared to assemble it. Since those turbulent ’90s, though, the pavilions of Future World had diverged.

For some, that meant character overlays. For others, replacing thoughtful, meaningful, epic dark rides with “brainless” discovery-centered thrills. For still others, it meant rotting in plain sight with either the original ’80s aesthetic and attractions or, worse, the cheapened versions of the ’90s. 

So what would happen to Imagination? A long-rumored infusion of Pixar’s Inside Out characters? A grand return of Dreamfinder and Figment? Northing? For the last two decades… it’s been anyone’s guess.

Image: Disney

Then, in 2019, we got one step closer to finding out. At the semi-annual D23 Expo in August 2019, Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products Chairman Bob Chapek was on hand to announce something radical. After decades of piecemeal fixes, one-off solutions, and mis-matched strategies for each of Future World’s pavilions, at last, Epcot would recieve the master-planned, identity-based revolution it really needed.

This sweeping redesign would re-introduce pavilion-specific iconography and even return a modernized version of the park’s name and logo.

The reinvented park would predictably involve the once-verboten presence of Disney characters in World Showcase (Ratatouille in France; Mary Poppins in England, and major hints of Coco in Mexo) and a very important, very overdue aesthetic swap in Future World. The northern half of the park will axe the concrete in favor of a forested environment, adding the Journey of Water “outdoor pavilion,” a Celebration pavilion (for EPCOT’s many festivals), the new Play pavilion (replacing the long-closed Wonders of Life), and more.

One of the special features of the announcement was the introduction of the temporary, nostaglic “EPCOT Forever” nighttime spectacular, bridging the gap between the recently-retired “Illuminations” and the upcoming character-focused “Harmonious.” The show highlights attractions of the past, with “One Little Spark” as its most emotional musical moment.

Image: Disney

Oh, and as for attempts to keep Future World… well… futuristic? The 2019-announced reinvention solves that, too. EPCOT Center’s two “realms” would be subdivided into four worlds, with the Imagination pavilion absorbed by the central “neighborhood” that also includes Spaceship Earth: World Celebration. Though the philosophical rewriting of Epcot’s purpose will never be entirely understood or approved by many Disney Parks history fans, at least there appears to be intention behind Epcot for the first time in a long time.

And among all the revolutionary announcements and artwork shared, the biggest surprise of all for fans was what was announced for the Imagination pavilion: nothing.

Could it be that, in a park undergoing a multi-billion dollar redesign, the Imagination pavilion will still feature a tired 3D theater showing Pixar shorts, a half-closed ImageWorks of interactive games running Windows 95, and 2002’s Journey into Imagination with a low-quality-CGI Figment alongside Eric Idle? As frustrating as it may be, the answer appears to be that yet again, we just don’t know. But we do have an interesting clue… 

Image: Disney

After the initial announcements at August’s D23, the “EPCOT Experience” preview center opened with an impressive 360-degree wraparound screen and a highly-stylized, projection-mapped model featuring each of the pavilions with featured announcements… oh, and two others. 

Despite no particular announcement being made, the Mexico pavilion is present on the model, even with a large guitar resting against its iconic temple exterior… seemingly a giveaway hint that, as rumored, Coco will eventually overtake the pavilion’s Three Cabelleros river ride and that Disney just wanted to save the official announcement for a future date. Makes sense, right?

So to that same end, what’s the meaning of the inclusion of the Imagination pavilion, too? According to insiders, Imagineers are ready to pull the trigger on a major reinvention of Imagination, too, that may or may not include the return of some familiar faces… Hmm…

Your sparks

Image: Disney

Journey into Imagination was one of Disney’s most inventive rides ever. The spectacular dark ride introduced Walt Disney World guests to Dreamfinder and Figment – characters who stand among Disney Parks’ most astounding “original” intellectual properties – and the spectacularly timeless “One Little Spark.”

But there’s something more. Journey into Imagination brought creativity and character to EPCOT Center’s industrious and scientific Future World; it introduced a generation of EPCOT Center visitors to the bold idea that art, music, literature, and science are part of human achievement, no different from communication or transportation. Disney Imagineers built a ride whose purpose was to inspire, and they succeeded. It’s the reason that, nearly forty years after its debut, people still long for a return for Dreamfinder and Figment, and to once again set off on a Journey into Imagination.

Image: Disney / Marvel

Today’s world could probably use more of the imagination they believed in. And it remains as true as ever:

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!

If you enjoyed our in-depth look back at Journey into Imagination, make the jump to our Legend Library to set course for another Lost Legends feature. Then, help us preserve this experience by telling us about your Journeys into Imagination in the comments below, and let us know what other attractions you’d love to see in our Lost Legends series.