Home » Journey into YOUR Imagination: The Unimaginable Story Behind the Ride Epcot Fans Hated

Journey into YOUR Imagination: The Unimaginable Story Behind the Ride Epcot Fans Hated

One little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation. A dream can be a dream-come-true with just that spark from me and you! Alight with wonder, these words brought with them an era of optimism, light, and joy when they were sung by heroes of EPCOT Center’s early years – the enigmatic Dreamfinder and his imaginative companion, Figment. But when imagination falters, mistakes can be made… 

The truth is, not every attraction is destined to be a fan favorite. But today, we want to dive deep into the story of a ride that was already loved by a generation and celebrated as a living example of Imagineering’s best… until Disney (literally) tore out its character resulting in one of the most despised and (thankfully) short-lived Disney attractions ever.

Here at Theme Park Tourist, we’re building a library of Disaster Files, chronicling the in-depth, behind-the-scenes stories and experiences of attractions that tore the fan community apart. Demolished classics, failed technologies, dated character overlays, and slashed budgets have led to in-depth Disaster Files on Superstar LimoThe Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New ManagementRocket RodsStitch’s Great Escape, and so many more. We’ve even seen what happens when Disney misses the park on entire parks when we told the full stories of Disney’s California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Park.

Image: Disney

There’s no shortage of Lost Legends entries (and ensuing Disaster Files) about rides at Walt Disney World’s Epcot, but of them all, this might be the most controversial and hated attraction Epcot ever hosted. Although it was only open for two years, the infamy of this debilitating disaster has made it a laughing stock, even for those who never had the chance to see it in person. Short-lived, short-sighted, and plain-old shortened, this dark ride proved to be more of a death than a rebirth. It can only be the story behind Epcot’s depressingly unimaginitive Journey into YOUR Imagination.

Today we’ll go in-depth to discuss the history of Epcot’s Imagination pavilion and why Disney fans consider it holy ground. Then, we’ll explore the creation of this long-detested ride, see what it was like to experience it, and find out what replaced it after its short life during Epcot’s Millennium Celebration. Ready to journey into imagination and back?

As usual in our in-depth series, the story of Journey into YOUR Imagination deserves and requires a little background; so let’s spend a minute catching up.

Disney World’s Fair

Image: Disney

In EPCOT Center, Disney’s Imagineers had taken the core concepts of Walt’s would-be city of the future and created a permanent World’s Fair. The concept was brilliant: massive pavilions in Future World would be financed by mega-corporations, who could in turn showcase the ever-evolving innovations behind their piece of industry and science: oceans, agriculture, communication, energy, transportation…

Stunning in its simplicity, the idea of a living, futuristic World’s Fair sincerely redefined a visit to “Disney” in an era where castles, princesses, fairytales, and Mickey Mouse had been the end-all-be-all of a Disney vacation.

Click and expand for a much larger view. Image: Disney

Each of Future World’s pavilions would be massive, populated by multiple rides, shows, attractions, and restaurants all selling its sponsor’s message. And like a real World’s Fair, people would flock to Disney’s EPCOT Center, eager to see the newest advances in transportation inside General Motors’ World of Motion; they’d explore the expanding understanding of incredible human body in Metlife’s Wonders of Life; they’d ride through an entertaining (and secretly informative) trip into the history of fossil fuels on Exxon’s Universe of Energy. “Edutainment” at its finest, each pavilion would balance the sponsor’s message and sales pitch with genuine information, often in elaborate dark rides showcasing Disney’s must-see showmanship.

Tony’s proposed Land pavilion. Image: Disney

Consider The Land pavilion. Originally, famed Imagineer Tony Baxter was put to work designing an environment-focused pavilion to be sponsored by a logging company. The logging company wanted a pavilion all about habitats, sustainability, and ecosystems, so that’s what Tony designed. Its headlining attraction would’ve been a suspended dark ride aboard hot air balloons, with guests whisked through the seasons, following a drop of water from the highest mountain peaks to the forests and wetlands below, with guests then able to walk through actual, living greenhouse ecosystems at their own pace.

But when the logging company bailed, Kraft Foods stepped in and agreed to sponsor The Land. But Kraft wasn’t interested in an exploration of ecosystems and sustainability. They wanted their Land pavilion to focus on topics relevant to their brand: nutrition, agriculture, harvesting, and food. And voila – The Land pavilion opened with Listen to the Land, Symbiosis, and Kitchen Kabaret in its attraction lineup.

Images: Disney

In other words, the sponsorship of this “World’s Fair” park shaped it. And for Disney, it was a win-win. Kraft would pay to design and build all of The Land’s attractions in exchange for its logo and message being strewn throughout. And to top it all off, the theory was that Kraft wouldn’t want their brand associated with an out-of-date pavilion or aging attraction… So they’d naturally update the pavilion periodically out of their own pockets (paying Disney to design and build yet again) to keep their brand associated with the newest technologies. Disney only had to sit back and wait for the park’s sponsors to finance the future! Not a bad deal at all for Disney, right?

Which brings us to the farthest corner of Future World where, upon EPCOT Center’s opening, a single pavilion stood out.


Among EPCOT Center’s lineup of industrial pavilions themed to evolving technologies and cutting-edge industries, Imagination might’ve seemed an outlier. And it was. That was the point.

Kodak – an American photography giant – was eager to partner with Disney (and indeed, over the three decades of partnership they forged, Kodak was unstoppable. The New York based company was everywhere, sponsoring attractions, every resort camera shop, Kodak Photo Spots strewn across the parks, and even the complimentary park guide maps handed out at park entrances).

For their first act, Kodak agreed to finance a pavilion of their own for EPCOT. And given that EPCOT probably wouldn’t have a pavilion dedicated to photography, they only requested that whatever topic their pavilion covered, it be “something imaginative.” Given this order, Disney assigned Tony Baxter – recently removed from The Land project – to give Kodak what they wanted. And boy, did he!

Upon opening on March 5, 1983 (six months after the rest of EPCOT Center), Journey into Imagination was the undisputable anchor of the Imagination pavilion and a defining experience of what EPCOT Center was.

Journey into Imagination (1983 – 1998). Image: (E82 – The Epcot Archives)

Aboard the 12-minute dark ride, guests would be seated in a modified string of Omnimovers and set course for the clouds. The ride’s opening scene – and perhaps its most awe-inspiring – was an engineering marvel in which the ride vehicles entered into a massive turntable (think Carousel of Progress, if a single stage aligned with the audience and rotated at the same rate). In this iconic intro, guests would meet the enigmatic and jovial red-bearded Dreamfinder, afloat on his fantastical Dream Catcher zephyr as he scours the world for “sparks” of imagination.

Mixing together “two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow; horns of a steer but a loveable fellow,” just a dash of “royal purple pigment,” and then, voila! We meet Figment, the beloved purple dragon who’d act as a whimsical connection to the world of make-believe.

Image: Disney

With Dreamfinder and Figment leading the way, this legendary and stunning dark ride would whisk guests into built-out, abstract scenes representing the realms of imagination: art, music, performing arts, and science. The adventure through the bright, wonderful inner workings of the mind was EPCOT at its finest. If it felt entirely out of step with the park’s more technological marvels, that only made Imagination’s inclusion even more valuable.

Worth mentioning – even if Dreamfinder and Figment were the icons of this imaginative, epic dark ride, a star of equal brightness had to have been the ride’s theme song, “One Little Spark,” written and composed by the Sherman Brothers. This iconic songwriting duo is responsible for most of the can’t-forget songs in the Disney Parks songbook, including “it’s a small world,” “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Miracles from Molecules” (from Disneyland’s Lost Legend: Adventure Thru Inner Space), and Walt’s personal anthem, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”

Lost Legend

Image: Disney

So beloved was this incredible, 12-minute dark ride, its creation, ride experience, and destruction earned its own in-depth feature that’s a must-read for Disney Parks fans: Lost Legends: Journey into Imagination. It’s there that you’ll find an in-depth ride-through, point-of-view videos, and the full behind-the-scenes story of how Journey into Imagination came to be. But here’s what you need to know: Journey into Imagination quickly became a fan favorite, an icon of EPCOT Center, and definitive proof that Imagineering could still craft legendary original characters for Disney attractions.

After all, EPCOT Center had intentionally been designed without Disney movies or Disney characters – no princesses, no castles, no Mickey Mouse – so Dreamfinder and Figment were quickly co-opted by Disney Parks fans to be the de facto icons of the park. Journey into Imagination was a pinnacle of theme park storytelling, touching and inspiring a generation of young people who credit it (and other EPCOT originals) with their love for themed entertainment design.

So how could such a good thing go so wrong?

Of course, Disney didn’t set out to turn this masterpiece attraction into the most hated ride Epcot’s ever hosted. So what happened? Read on…

Let’s skip forward, more than a decade after the opening of Journey into Imagination. In 1994, EPCOT Center was renamed Epcot ’94. That simple change signified a sweeping new ideology that began to take its toll on many of EPCOT Center’s classics in the years after. Another Lost Legend: Horizons, was already slated for demolition (it would eventually be replaced by Mission: SPACE) and had re-opened temporarily only to fill in for the shuttered World of Motion (which was becoming Test Track) and the temporarily closed Universe of Energy (which was undergoing its own transformation to become Ellen’s Energy Adventure). 

Image: Disney

In other words, barely fifteen years after its opening, Epcot’s Future World was beginning to crumble. For one thing, Epcot had earned an unfortunate reputation and become a pop culture punch line: it was the park kids dreaded spending a day at. How could the restaurants of World Showcase or (shudder) educational dark rides hold a candle to a day riding Space Mountain or Star Tours?

But the most damning factor leveled against Future World might’ve been inherent in its DNA. Time and time and time again, “the Tomorrowland Problem” had crept into Disney Parks, crippling Imagineers. Put simply: “tomorrow” always becomes “today,” which meant that any land or ride in a Disney park sincerely dedicated to predicting the future would constantly need updated and refined to catch up to current technology and modern vision. (We covered the phenomenon in-depth as part of a standalone feature, Lost Legends: The Peoplemover and Walt’s Tomorrowland.) In that regard, Future World might as well be considered the biggest Tomorrowland Disney had ever built, and a lot had changed between 1982 and the mid-1990s. It was time for change.

Image: Disney

And even if, in retrospect, we can boo many of the changes that came to Epcot during this controversial period, we also have to face an undeniable truth: Epcot did need to change. Despite its lofty intentions and the stunning impact the park had upon opening, it could not hold out in the same form forever.

Consider that EPCOT Center’s opening in 1982 was heralded in the press as the “arrival of the 21st century.” The problem is, we’re now talking about the mid-1990s. The actual 21st century was looming on the horizon, and Epcot didn’t look anything like what lay ahead. In fact, Epcot looked very much like the future as envisioned from the 1980s – cold, gray, and concrete.

Image: Disney

For better or worse, Disney’s leadership had set out to reverse the fortunes of Epcot. The changes happening in Future World in the mid-1990s were really just a few piecemeal elements of a much larger plan to radically overhaul the entire park. We chronicled everything we know about the controversial would-be rebirth in its own standalone feature, Possibilityland: Epcot’s Project: GEMINI. While it never went into full effect, many of Epcot’s most controversial additions (Finding Nemo in the Seas pavilion, Mission: SPACE, and the original Test Track) were all part of it. And to make such a radical rebuild possible, Disney needed Epcot’s sponsors to rally.

Sponsors Fall

As Disney scrambled to breathe new life into Future World to ward off “the Tomorrowland Problem,” it turned to the corporate sponsors who had fueled the creation of Epcot to begin with. If Disney had needed their financing to get Epcot off the ground, it needed them to double down now and make good on their terms for keeping the pavilions up-to-date.

Image: Disney

So imagine Disney’s dismay when, rather than agreeing to redouble their efforts within Epcot, the park’s sponsors began to waver. By the 1990s, the world was shifting. Americans’ perception of mega-corporations was changing. After all, do we really want to get a lesson on sustainable harvesting from Kraft? Do we care to have ExxonMobil lecture us about energy as the multi-billion dollar company makes record profits while gas prices skyrocket? Would we still like to visit Monsanto’s Home of the Future? All the while, a shifting economy made it more difficult for companies to explain to shareholders and (sometimes laid off) employees how tens of millions of dollars had been spent on a theme park ride in Florida.

Disney was at a crossroads.

  • Should they reclaim control of the pavilions themselves and stuff them full of Disney characters to attract families?
  • Should they evolve Epcot into a park with embedded thrills at the expense of demolishing beloved-but-tired ‘80s classics?
  • Should they salvage what they could of Epcot’s sponsors and push forward with modest redesigns of pavilions that adhere to the original vision?

Image: Disney

Any one of the three plans would’ve been controversial in its own right. But perhaps worse than any one, Disney tried all three. The once-conceptually-united pavilions diverged: Pixar’s Finding Nemo took over the (still distinctly ‘80s) Living Seas pavilion; Horizons fell to the thrilling-but-brainless Mission: SPACE; and as for Journey into Imagination…? Well…

Battle for Imagination

Image: Kodak

Disney selected Epcot as the hub for Walt Disney World’s Millennium Celebration, eager to show off their newest attractions in a park that had received quite a bit of investment through the ‘90s. One attraction that had not changed much was Journey into Imagination. But it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Disney invoked the contract that Kodak had signed and made it clear that if Kodak wanted to keep their sponsorship of the Imagination pavilion and its brand ambassador messaging throughout the ride and its post-show, it would need to invest in refreshing the ride in time for the Millennium Celebration.

Image: Disney, Florida-Project.com

Kodak, for its part, was in no place to invest in a Disney dark ride. The photography giant had been in a financial tumble for years, reeling from their shortsighted response to the arrival of digital photography after decades of being on top. Kodak was in such bad shape that in 1999 the company cut its employment by 20%. One out of every five employees was let go. Imagine if you were one of those let go, then watched as the company spent millions redesigning a ride at Disney World. Yikes.

Put simply: Kodak probably should’ve let the Disney sponsorship go to focus on its core assets. (And eventually, they did, famously dropping their sponsorship from Kodak Photo Spots and the complimentary park guide maps across which their logo was displayed.) But a circling shark in the water made that hard to do. For years, Kodak’s biggest competitor – Fujifilm – had been trying to get into Disney Parks.

Image: Fujifilm

So poisonous was the rivalry that Kodak allegedly blocked plans for a Mount Fuji roller coaster in Epcot’s Japan pavilion simply due to the perceived connection. According to insiders, Fujifilm wanted into Disney World badly, and was more than happy to take over the Imagination pavilion from its flailing adversary.

Image: Disney

Kodak couldn’t allow its competitor to weasel into its territory, so they agreed to Disney’s demands to freshen up the Imagination ride. But they would only offer Disney a small fraction of the money they’d requested.

Working on a slashed budget and with precious little time until the Millennium Celebration debuted, Disney’s Imagineers got to work designing something new on the shoestring budget they’d been provided. Journey into Imagination closed forever on October 10, 1998. Less than a year later, Epcot’s glass pyramids re-opened with something very, very different inside… Read on…


Just under a year after the closure of its predecessor, on October 1, 1999, Journey into YOUR Imagination opened at Epcot. Aside from the addition of the word “YOUR” to the ride’s marquee outside, very little hints that the ride experience inside is any different. The Imagination pavilion is still made of two towering glass pyramids, with fountains leaping fantastically between planters outside.

Image: ckramer, Flickr (license)

Your first indication that the adventure has changed is in the queue. Now rerouted and dressed as an office and lobby area, the message here is that you’ve entered the Imagination Institute.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Imagination Institute features prominently in the pavilion’s other attraction – “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” That 1994 3D film is in turn based on the 1989 film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids starring Rick Moranis.

(Actually, the idea here is one that Disney Parks fans generally admire: continuity. Fans of storytelling, Imagineering, and themed entertainment design tend to love when multiple rides and attractions are brought into the same time period and place. A few prominent and well-loved example include Disneyland’s Adventureland [with all the rides, attractions, restaurants, and even shops absorbed into one single time period and place thanks to Indiana Jones Adventure], Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland [back when its overarching story worked Timekeeper, the Peoplemover, Space Mountain, and even another Lost Legend: Alien Encounter, into a single story], and the fan-favorite Society of Explorers and Adventures [S.E.A.] whose cross-continental tale connects multiple Disney restaurants, rides, and even parks into one massive frame story.)

Image: Disney

So while it’s a radical departure from the abstract and fanciful Journey into Imagination (and our first real, gut-wrenching clue that the new ride has practically nothing in common with its predecessor), it’s not inherently offensive to fans’ sensibilities in isolation. Of course, it would’ve helped if the “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” references weren’t already a decade old by time this new dark ride incarnation opened.

The point is, the pun-filled queue line for the Imagination Institute helps us understand that our job today is a simple one: we’ll be testing out the Institute’s new Imagination Scanner, capable of telling us just how creative we are.

Image: opus2008, Flickr (license)

As you arrive at the end of the queue, a familiar chain of Omnimover vehicles pulls into the load area to prepare for your boarding. While they might not have changed much, something has. Don’t expect your grand journey to begin on the iconic engineering marvel of the massive revolving turntable scene. Why? Because you’re standing on it.

Image: Imagineering Disney, all rights reserved.

The first thing to know about Journey into YOUR Imagination is that Kodak’s modest investment couldn’t quite cover Tony Baxter’s original 12-minute epic dark ride. The original track layout (including pink, above) has been altered. Now, the former turntable scene where we first met Dreamfinder serves as the unload and load area. A further 40% of the ride’s track has been physically severed from the circuit. The former 12-minute dark ride is now 5 minutes long. Seriously.

Maybe it’s for the best.

The second thing you should know about Journey into YOUR Imagination is that anything you loved about the original ride is gone. That’s not editorializing. Literally nothing from the original remains, so anything from the original that had left an impression on you is now absent. That includes Dreamfinder (gone), Figment (gone), “One Little Spark” (gone), and the realms of imagination (all gone). 

What does this completely original ride have in store?

Journey into YOUR Imagination

Journey into YOUR Imagination (1999 – 2001). Image: (E82 – The Epcot Archives)

As your vehicle enters the ride, you first hear the disembodied voice of our host – the Imagination Institute’s Dr. Nigel Channing (played by Monty Python’s Eric Idle) – who introduces us to the Imagination Scanner, which will now (you guessed it) “measure your imaginations.” The vehicles advance through a dark tunnel with a glowing red grid projected within. “Relax as the scanner sees what’s in your heads.” As the Omnimovers pull up to mirrored walls, a laser grid is projected across your vehicle as the high-pitched whir of a scan takes measurements of your creativity.

The results are pretty stunning. Ahead, you’ll notice that floating above you in the mirror are fuel gauges reading “empty” and VACANCY signs. Feel good?

“As you can see, there’s not much going on upstairs imagination-wise,” Dr. Channing chuckles, “but that’s just perfect for our experiment.”

In order to rectify our sad, empty imaginations, Dr. Channing has a plan: we’ll tour deeper into the Imagination Institute to engage with a few experiments the team has been working on, all in hopes of kick-starting our creativity. For the next four minutes, we’ll be put through the paces with some of Dr. Channing’s favorite imagination-boosters.

“We begin with an exercise in sound. Listen closely and ‘See What You Hear’!” The vehicles pull into chamber so dark, you can’t make out a hand in front of your face. The darkness seems to go on forever, and in this unusual echo-free chamber, you could hear a pin drop. Stopped for a moment, a bell whistles in the distance… Then a far-away rumbling… It grows louder and louder until high definition surround-sound audio creates the impression of an oncoming train barreling past.

A door ahead slides open as the vehicles continue past our next experiment: “Through the Looking Glass.” Here, a giant magnifying glass appears to be distorting the Institute hallway beyond. But wait… “Is this looking glass actually magnifying? Or is it your imagination?”

As the vehicles continue, a massive cinder block is hoisted high above a glass table for our next experiment: “Shattering Perceptions.” “Here, one quickly learns that when the laws of physics and common sense are shattered…” the cinder block releases, falling toward the table and plunging through it. The sound of shattering glass echoes, though the items on the table stay put. “…Imagination takes over!”

Next up is the Illusion Lab where a unique visual trick seems to make a massive, swinging butterfly appear from nowhere inside of a bamboo cage. “Looks can be deceiving, can’t they?”

Our next experiment: “The Color Of Sound.” The vehicles come to a stop between two long light screens. As the sound of jungle animals echoes, the screens turn green. A countdown and rocket launch turns them red as the vehicle presses on.

As lights flash, the tour moves into a new chamber with glowing points arranged in precise grids. A none-too-well-disguised cameo of Figment adds a bit of insult to injury. As the wall continues on, the dots begin to deviate from their gridded pattern, eventually becoming random points of light in the distance: stars!

“And now,” Dr. Channing offers, “an exercise all about making connections! Stare at these points long enough and your imagination will take flight! You’ll see!” Lines begin to fade in and out, connecting the stars into fish, monkeys, snakes, cats, and more.

Image: Disney

Now, it’s off to the big finale: the “Up is Down” experiment in the Institute’s Gravity Lab. Indeed, this unique finale sees us pass through a garage, living room, bathroom, and kitchen that appear flipped upside down.

Ahead, the pulsing red grid of a dark tunnel appears, signaling our return to the Imagination Scanner. “Well, our experiments are now complete! Time to run you through the Scanner once again. No telling what we’ll find in your imagination this time!”

Once again, the Omnimover aligns with a mirror as the whir of a machine signals the scanner booting up. “This is absolutely unbelievable!” A blast of air from behind sends the rooms into darkness as the mirrors drop away. Beyond, projected lights, images, and eyeballs show just how alive our imaginations have become. “Look! You’ve tested off the charts!”

Now as the vehicles proceeds through a starfield, you hear a familiar, friendly voice… Could it be… Figment?! “Who could’ve imagined! You’re quite clever, all of you!”

Dr. Channing agrees. “Congratulations! You’re creative geniuses! What a burst of creativity!”

As the vehicle aligns with the unload area (again, a piece of the former grand opening turntable scene), the Institute’s computerized voice announces, “Reality restored.” Indeed it is.

To savor the experience, be sure to watch the full point-of-view video here:


Frankly, we don’t have to go on and on about the ride’s shortcomings. You get it. 

Its first and most obvious mistake is that nothing could ever justifiably replace Journey into Imagination in the minds and hearts of Disney Parks fans and those who grew up with or were inspired by Epcot. And even if, in retrospect, we can admit that the original Journey into Imagination did need freshened up for a new millennium, the ride’s core concept – its heart – was timeless. That’s universally agreed upon, so we shouldn’t waste much time contemplating it.

Image: Theme Park Tourist

But what is important to point out here is that, even removed from the shadow of its predecessor and accounting for the circumstances that plagued Disney Parks during the cost-cutting era of the 1990s (see literally any of the Disaster Files entries from the original California Adventure to Rocket Rods), Journey into YOUR Imagination just wasn’t a good ride. Even if Dreamfinder, Figment, and “One Little Spark” had never existed to begin with, the 1999 Journey into YOUR Imagination would’ve seemed distinctly un-Disney.

Journey into YOUR Imagination was guilty of literally all five of our Tell-Tale Signs of a Bad Attraction with its grounded-in-reality “institute” plotline devoid of (ironically) imagination, its casting of guests as “tourists” (a cop-out), and its plot hinging on making fun of just how unimaginative you are.

Some may fault Imagineers for defiling a classic and tearing out its character and personality. Others may sympathize with their position in a tightly budgeted project that might have read well on paper. In any case, it was quickly agreed by all parties that Journey into YOUR Imagination was a disaster. Disney doesn’t close brand new rides unless they have to. And when Journey into YOUR Imagination closed two years and one week after it opened, it was clear that things were bad.

Put simply: Guests hated it. Epcot fans hated it. Kodak was embarassed. Even Michael Eisner – who, by this point, was setting the pretty low bar that led to most of the other entries in our Disaster FIles series from Rocket Rods to Superstar Limo – realized that the ride was abysmal. Something literally had to change if Disney or Kodak were to salvage their names.

They had one more trick up its sleeve. On the last page, we’ll explore what happened to the ride and what we expect the future to hold for the Imagination pavilion.

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

The Imagination Institute alongside “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” with Kodak’s logo prominent. Image: Michael Gray, Flickr (license)

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.

Image: opus2008, Flickr (license)

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!”

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

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.

Image: Disney

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).

Journey Into Imagination With Figment (2002 – present). Image: (E82 – The Epcot Archives)

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).

Image: Disney

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!

Image: Disney

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…

What’s Next?

The Imagination Institute, now hosting Journey into Imagination With Figment alongside Captain EO… and without Kodak’s sponsorship. Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

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.

Disaster Stories

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.