Journey into Imagination is unique as far as extinct EPCOT Center attractions go in that, it’s not technically an extinct Walt Disney World ride/pavilion, but for all intents and purposes among EPCOT Center fans, it’s only but a memory. The original dark ride is gone, upstairs ImageWorks is gone, Dreamfinder is gone, and the Figment has been stripped of his original identify.
I’ve chosen to start the week-long series of EPCOT Center retrospectives (leading up to Epcot’s 30th Anniversary) with Journey into Imagination because the original dark ride with Dreamfinder and Figment in the Journey into Imagination pavilion is the attraction that resonated most with me out of all the original EPCOT Center attractions and sparked my love for Walt Disney World that continues to this day. While I barely can recall Horizons or the original Universe of Energy, I still remember the Journey into Imagination in vivid detail.
The opening scene felt like you were actually joining Dreamfinder as he piloted a mystic dreamcatching contraption, and when Figment appeared, with his child-like inquisitiveness and enthusiasm, that was icing on the cake. It’s easy for me to now see how Figment from this era appealed to children so much, as he essentially was a child. What kid didn’t imagine flights through foreign worlds? Everything about the attraction, from the flight to Figment to the settings seemed like it was something straight out of one of my dreams. It was an exceptional attraction in every way, and embodied the bright-eyed optimism of EPCOT Center.
Although it’s difficult to pick a favorite scene, the bright whites of Figment painting in “Art” always stood out to me. Another that really stands out is the finale room. In this room, a Figment audio animatronic stood in the middle of a circular room with videos running around the wall (think CircleVision 360, except with a dark ride passing through and without that style of video) showing Figment engaging in various acts as the awesome melody of “One Little Spark” enveloped the guests, and as the ride vehicles passed through the circle out to unload, where the fun was just beginning.
The entire attraction was rife with detail and each scene brought something enchanting, whether seeing it for the first time or the 51st. Although, no doubt, part of this is my waxing nostalgic for the attraction, I wholly believe that this sense of nostalgia is grounded in reality. I am not just nostalgic for the attraction for the sake of nostalgia. I am nostalgic for it because it was truly one of the highest quality attractions to ever grace a Disney theme park.
Most of you are probably pretty familiar with the substance of the attraction. If you’re not, my words won’t do it justice, so I won’t bore you with a text-based ride-through. Instead, I recommend checking out this high-quality tribute to the original Journey into Imagination by Martin Smith if you never experienced it:
The dark ride itself was amazing, but the ImageWorks post show was almost nearly as impressive. The games, effects, and that amazing Rainbow Corridor were nothing short of magic to my curiosities. These experiences had my excitement at a fever pitch when we headed into the gift shop. My dream toy was always the giant, 4 foot Figment plush, given its price tag and my budget, I found myself settling for lower priced, but equally endearing Figment plush that, has been a great companion on almost every subsequent trip to Walt Disney World (and Disneyland!) that I have since taken.
Since we’re examining Journey into Imagination as an extinct attraction, the ending to the story of this amazing attraction obviously isn’t a happy one. Journey into Imagination reached its low point in late 1998 when the pavilion was stripped of all things related to imagination. This wasn’t as a low of a point as it could have been for me, personally. We only took one trip as a family to Walt Disney World after the closure of Journey into Imagination, and I was in that regrettable teenage maturation state that made me “too cool” for most things Walt Disney World had to offer.
In recent years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to experience a few things related to the original Journey into Imagination. In May 2011, I had the chance to meet Tony Baxter and briefly discuss the original pavilion with him. Later that same trip, I had the incredible experience of seeing Dreamfinder, Figment, and Richard Sherman perform “One Little Spark.” In December, I was able to meet and chat with a close friend of Dreamfinder. In 2012, I toured the upstairs ImageWorks. All of these experiences have made me miss the original incarnation of the pavilion even more, and I truly believe that with minor updates to keep it fresh, it could have existed for decades, reaching an iconic status much like Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion. It was a timeless attraction, and one that showcased the abilities and creativity of Walt Disney Imagineering.
Rather than unproductively fixating on what Journey into Imagination has become, let’s celebrate what it was (after all, EPCOT Center’s 30th Anniversary is a celebration!) and where it might go in the future. With that said, I’ll let these beautiful photos submitted by readers of the blog speak for themselves. The photos are mostly self-explanatory, so rather than bog this post down with unnecessary text, I’ll only interject commentary where appropriate. If you have any questions about any particular photo, please leave a comment!
To all of you who submitted photos, I am eternally grateful. These vintage posts would not have been possible without your generosity. For photographer attribution and other information, hover your cursor over each photo. Also, be sure to check out our photo credits page. If you have EPCOT Center photos, please check out our EPCOT Center Photo Search page for details on how to submit them!
My favorite scene from the original attraction.
In an early artist rendering of this scene, Figment (then a green dragon), joined the audience in watching scenes from Disney films, including Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Okay, so not Journey into Imagination technically, but Figment is in the shot…and it’s a really cool photo of the Magic Kingdom hub with trees and flowers. I couldn’t resist!