While away from Walt Disney World for the foreseeable future, we thought it might be fun to take a stroll or two down memory lane with some of our favorite moments over the years. Hopefully, these will be upbeat stories that also offer background as to why we’re such huge fans and what makes Disney so special for us.
To begin, we’ll start with the story that probably best encapsulates my fandom, from childhood to adulthood. You could say there was one little spark that set me on this path, which is my obsession with the original Journey into Imagination attraction featuring Figment & Dreamfinder. These characters and their attraction made an indelible impression on me as a kid, and they truly unlocked the keys to my imagination.
Even after their attraction was long gone, the memories have stuck with me into adulthood. Moreover, the way and the degree to which the attraction resonated with me imbued a sense of curiosity and inspired me to dive deeper into all things Disney. Enter the D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary Celebration…
This event occurred just a couple of months after we launched Disney Tourist Blog, so long-time readers might recall the event documented in meticulous detail in “early-era” trip reports. We always thought those travel diaries might be nice to have for reliving past experiences–we just figured it’d be decades from now rather than under these circumstances!
The set-up here is the final night of the D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary Celebration. Disney Legend Richard Sherman is on stage for his Magic Journeys concert, in which he’ll play many iconic Sherman Brothers songs from classic Disney animated films as well as attractions, while also offering anecdotes about working with Walt Disney and more.
This was our first time hearing Richard Sherman perform, and it can best be described as a veritable “sea of chills,” especially once he got to the theme park material. From the “Orange Bird Song” to the Carousel of Progress theme songs, his performances were incredibly touching and there was a constant state of euphoria hanging in the air.
Then Richard Sherman began to play “One Little Spark” with the screen behind him showing in-park footage of Dreamfinder and Figment. I was equally transfixed by the music and rare footage from the heyday of EPCOT Center. The collective audience exuberance swelled, and the cheers grew louder. If we were on cloud nine throughout the earlier numbers during the concert, we had floated up to cloud 10 or 11 by now.
The video proceeded for about another 45 seconds before the audio switched from the source video to a human, and the lights came on. There was a collective gasp from the audience as everyone realized what had happened. There they were, together again for the first time in over a decade: Dreamfinder and Figment!
At this point, I’m not fully sure what happened. I was like a man possessed. The instant I saw Dreamfinder, I shot up from my seat and rushed towards the aisle for an unobstructed view and photos of the reasons I’m a Walt Disney World fan in front of me, in person (and dragon) once again.
Sarah later said that she was a little nervous that I might just run right up on stage. I think she was only half-kidding. I was definitely cognizant-enough of my surroundings not to do that, but it was a decidedly visceral experience. My tear ducts filled and I was on cloud ninety-nine at this point. It’s safe to say I was not alone in feeling that way.
If this sounds a little melodramatic, it’s not. Below is video of the full song; just listen to the crowd erupt when Dreamfinder and Figment appear. Even watching it at home today, you can feel the emotion oozing from the audience:
The term “magic” gets bandied about quite frequently when discussing Disney, but mostly in marketing puffery. When Dreamfinder and Figment came out, there was truly magic in the air. The crowd erupted so loudly that I’m sure some people didn’t even hear part of his dialogue or song, and the magic was palpable.
I think the moment probably set a Guinness Book of World Records record for “most people to simultaneously cry upon seeing a bearded man and purple dragon.”
While the cheers continued to flow loudly, Dreamfinder and Figment engaged in sharp and playful banter that reminded everyone there of the real personalities of the characters we all missed so much.
Although Figment still has a pavilion in Epcot, fans of the original pavilion miss the true character–the embodiment and personification of imagination–these characters represented.
After making his remarks, Dreamfinder paused before saying, “oh, here’s Richard Sherman, let’s go say hello to him.” The trio interacted briefly before beginning a performance of One Little Spark. Words cannot even begin to describe the emotional nature of this performance for everyone in attendance.
Imagine being at a Taylor Swift concert in a pulsating stadium, standing in a reserved area for “Swifties” with the pre-teen emotional whirlwind that entails–tears, cheers, and everything in between. Now take that up a notch. That’s probably about how Disney fans reacted to this. Except instead of pop star performing their radio hits, our emotional jam is a ride’s theme song that’s performed by a bearded professor and his imaginary dragon, and we were all sitting in a conference hall. Other than that, totally the same.
After the performance, Dreamfinder waited for the thunderous applause and roars from the crowd to quiet before leading the entire building in two more verses of One Little Spark. At the end, Mr. Sherman and Dreamfinder stood on the stage together, both receiving a deserved standing ovation as the roar of the crowd continued. For us Disney fans, especially those of us who were children of the 80s and early 90s, seeing Dreamfinder and Figment again was like being reunited with our father and best friend.
The reaction of all 1,200 guests present really made for a special experience. However, by far the man most excited to be there was up on stage. Reprising his role as Dreamfinder, Ron Schneider was grinning ear to ear for the duration of his time on stage, and was absolutely beaming. I do not doubt in the least that Dreamfinder is truly a part of him, and that Figment is like his son. The excitement didn’t stop with us guests and Dreamfinder; Disney Legends present at the event, including Marty Sklar and others, were visibly moved by the performance.
Upon returning to my seat, Sarah said that I simply uttered, “I just saw Dreamfinder and Figment for the first time in roughly 15 years” while sitting in there in a state of paralysis and bliss. Other than that, I was speechless. It was a dream come true, and still ranks as one of my top 5 moments at Walt Disney World of all-time.
If one five minute appearance by Dreamfinder and Figment got me this worked up, there’s cause for concern if Walt Disney World ever gets its sense together and restores Dreamfinder to the Journey into Imagination pavilion with an attraction worthy of the original. Someone might have to drag me kicking and screaming from the place at closing each night!
Suffice to say, that song and that concert as a whole left me invigorated. My enthusiasm for Walt Disney World was at an all-time high right then–it’s stuff like this that rekindles the fire. Looking back now, some of our fondest Disney memories ever occurred during that celebration of Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary, and it’s one we will recall vividly for years to come.
Just thinking back on those memories makes me happy and even more eager to return to Walt Disney World. (The latter might not be such a good thing right now!) On a personal level, it’ll be hard to live up to seeing Richard Sherman, Dreamfinder & Figment sing “One Little Spark,” but this is a huge reason we’re so anxiously awaiting the 50th Anniversary next year!
Were you there for this performance of “One Little Spark” during Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary Celebration? Wish you could see Richard Sherman, Dreamfinder & Figment sing? Have you attended another Richard Sherman concert? Have any of your own special Journey into Imagination related-memories? Interested in seeing more ‘stroll down memory lane’ articles like this? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!