This wasn’t the first time I’d overheard this conversation (or something much like it).
Child: “What’s the purple dragon?”
Parent: “I don’t know… but the line for that ride is so short we should go on it.”
Child: “No I want to go on Test Track.”
I can’t even be mad about it: while Figment is a beloved character to many fans of a certain age (and he’s the mascot/theme of the entire Festival of the Arts now), for kids he pretty much exists only as an omnipresent merchandising opportunity being constantly shoved down their throats at Epcot. And if you look the current iteration of Figment’s attraction at Walt Disney World, it’s kind of hard to understand why he’s idolized by the 30+ crowd.
Because “Journey Into Imagination with Figment” (as it exists in 2021) is an abomination.
It’s the ride that everyone forgets exists. Even the (human) star of the attraction–Monty Python’s Eric Idle–forgot about it. And he is in the attraction!
Last week, Idle was asked about starring with Figment and he didn’t recognize the little guy, confusing him for the talking dragon from Quest for Camelot.
Now, as he quickly pointed out, he recorded the attraction video before Figment was digitally added to the shots and all talking purple dragons do kind of look the same. But still… it’s a tough look for our guy Figment.
So… who (or what) is Figment and why do fans like our very own EarstaDiva call him their favorite part of Epcot? What are we missing in 2021 that makes him special?
There are many long and well-researched histories of Figment and his attraction on the internet, so we’ll give you a brief overview and then get into the fashion of Figment (and why it’s such a missed opportunity for Disney).
Journey into the 1980s (with Figment)
Epcot looked very different in its early days. For one thing, it was still called EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), and for another it was much more conceptual than property-driven.
At its prime, the park featured eight pavilions, each with a theme. Spaceship Earth represented “communication,” The Living Seas represented “ocean exploration,” The Land represented “agriculture,” World of Motion represented “transportation,” Wonders of Life represented “health,” Universe of Energy represented “energy,” Communicore represented “innovation” and Horizons was the pavilion that brought everything together to represent “humanity’s future.”
Each of these pavilions had a corporate sponsor that covered many of the land’s costs in return for branding and input into the attractions in their pavilion, which was a great money-saver for Disney! Some attractions are still sponsored today: “Living with the Land” is currently sponsored by Chiquita and “Test Track” by Chevrolet.
Kodak film was not a sponsor of any of the 8 more industrial-themed pavilions in EPCOT’s original plans, but they wanted their own land that focused on “something imaginative” and voila – Imagineers developed the Imagination Pavilion!
The pavilion featured other attractions, but its headliner was a dark ride called “Journey into Imagination” that featured the characters of Figment and the Dreamfinder. The Dreamfinder was a quirky, monocled scientist/inventor character and Figment was a “figment of the imagination” that he created using the Dreamcatcher.
The attraction was quirky and delightful – its lighthearted, experimental tone was very kid-friendly, and its earworm song “One Little Spark” was written by the Sherman brothers (of Mary Poppins fame)!
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!
The two characters guided riders on an omnimover system (like the Haunted Mansion) through four areas of the imagination: art, literature, the performing arts, and science.
Guests disembarking from the ride got to explore ImageWorks (inside the glass pyramids themselves) and play with interactive exhibits. Figment and the Dreamfinder also popped up as roving characters in the pavilion, delighting guests with puppetry and ventriloquy.
So… what happened?
This all sounds wonderful… so what happened? Figment is still present and accounted for at Epcot. Why are people so upset about “Journey Into Imagination with Figment” as it exists in 2021?
Well… corporate sponsorship happened. The Imagination Pavilion was sponsored by Kodak, but it was an expensive venture for the film company. The ride needed refurbishment and updates, but Kodak was losing money with the rise of digital photography and didn’t want to pay for any of that.
When Disney insisted, Kodak agreed to update “Journey into Imagination”, but they could only give Disney a fraction of the money that Disney asked for. In 1998, the ride closed, reopening in time for Epcot’s Millennium Celebration as “Journey Into Your Imagination.”
Instead of a refreshed or updated version of the beloved attraction, “Journey into Your Imagination” had replaced Dreamfinder with an unfunny, non-animatronic character named Dr. Nigel Channing, head of the “Imagination Institute.”
Because of the lack of money for refurbishment, the attraction was literally cut in half (a 12-minute ride was now 5 minutes) and the new ride decor looked cheap and dated. Even the ride vehicles changed.
Plus they got rid of Dreamfinder, the song “One Little Spark,” and almost every appearance of Figment. Boooo.
Disney Realizes their Mistake
“Journey Into Your Imagination” only lasted for two years – an extremely short lifespan for a Disney attraction. Probably because no one really enjoyed it, especially those who had previously loved the ride.
Disney tried to recapture the spirit of the original attraction, bringing back Figment (albeit a bratty teenaged version of him) and a version of the song “One Little Spark.” But half of the ride’s track had been removed and most of its animatronics were lost. Not wanting to invest huge money into a new total refurbishment, imagineers did what they could to salvage the ride.
When it reopened six months later in 2002, “Journey into the Imagination With Figment” (the last two words were added to emphasize that the attraction was returning to its roots) was a pale imitation of the original ride. Dr. Channing is apparently here to stay, and the Dreamfinder and the creative whimsy of the original have both been lost.
What’s left is a perfectly fine attraction, and some Figment is better than no Figment at all! But that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at the opportunity that we think Disney missed by forgetting about the spirit of the Dreamfinder and the attraction in its original form.
Epcot’s Biggest Mistake
While Figment merchandise and imagery may have returned to Epcot to try and earn the nostalgia-dollars of older visitors, this Dreamfinder-less incarnation of Figment epitomizes the problems that I personally find with Epcot.
And I’ll disclose this – I never went on the original ride (or at least if I did I was too young to have any memory of it). I disliked the millennial update and the current version, but I also don’t have any personal rose-tinted memories of the original experience.
What I do see in Epcot–and the Walt Disney Company in general–is the rapid cannibalization of innovation, invention and imagination by IP (Intellecual Property). The “Maelstrom” ride in Norway was replaced by “Frozen Ever After,” Finding Nemo took over “The Living Seas” and “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” has demolished “Universe of Energy.” (I won’t mention other parks, but we all remember what they did to Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure).
And change isn’t necessarily bad! I love Frozen, possibly more than the next person. I’m never mad just because something like “Splash Mountain” or “The Jungle Cruise” gets plussed (as the Imagineers call it).
It’s just the overall trajectory of Epcot (formerly EPCOT, the Prototype Community of Tomorrow) seems to be looking backwards instead of forwards. Instead of innovating, the company overall is rehashing its greatest hits (do we really need a live-action version of every single animated classic?) because they know it will make money. And, while I love the properties they’re bringing to the park, do the “new” attractions have a spark of imagination?
I don’t know!
Epcot is in the midst of a major overhaul at the moment, with Future World being significantly revamped. And that could be great – the corporate-sponsorship model of the Future World pavilions is outdated, and even I (a confessed Disney fanatic) don’t really understand or care about the organization of the pavilions.
But I want more dreamfinding. Not the character Dreamfinder, per se, but what he represented: being inspired by the world around you and translating that into original art and scientific innovation. Sometimes that imagination produces weird things, like a talking purple dragon or Kitchen Cabaret (singing fruit!). But I miss that weirdness and the possibility that the imagineers could produce something strange and new that came solely from their imaginations, unconstrained by needing to reproduce whatever movie made the most money last year.
Fortunately, Disney fans are the best people, and have enough imagination to make up for what Epcot may be lacking. DisneyBounders, artists, musicians and more are always surprising us with the ways that they innovate and find ways to keep that little spark of imagination alive.
Hopefully the Disney Company will take notice.
So that’s Journey into [Your] Imagination [with Figment]. What do you think? Do you remember the original attraction? Any thoughts about the direction of the Epcot overhaul? Let us know here, on Instagram and Facebook (@fashionearsta) and our brand new YouTube channel! Be sure to follow us so that you’re always in the loop and can follow along with our adventures!
Pixie dust and glamour!
The Fancy Floridian