Growing up, the little purple dragon known as Figment was one of, if not my favorite character in all of Walt Disney World. This little guy has sparked the imagination of so many since his journey began in 1983. His story is truly fascinating and I’m so excited to share it with you today!
Know Before You Go Essential Facts
- The ride is located in Epcot, in Future World
- There is no height requirement
- Fastpass + is offered, but not recommended
- The fright factor is 1 out of 5
- Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
- Audio Description, Handheld Captioning, and Language Translation Devices are available
- Children under age 7 must be accompanied by a person age 14 years or older
- The ride is 6 minutes long
- The ride opened on March 5, 1983. It has since been refurbished twice, the newest version opening June 1, 2002.
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! – Dreamfinder
When Dreamfinder spoke these words on the original Journey Into Imagination, Figment magically came to life. From then on, the 3-foot tall purple dragon has been a fan favorite at Walt Disney World. In fact, Disney Imagineers found out the hard way, a ride without Figment is not a ride worth taking.
Five months after Epcot opened in 1982, Journey Into Imagination opened its doors. Inside, riders boarded large omnimover like vehicles that took them to a larger than life character named Dreamfinder. The plump fellow quickly charmed audiences with his robust nature, blue suit, black top hat, and bushy, bright red beard. In some ways, he reminds me of Santa Claus; larger than life, joyful, and friendly. Of course, Dreamfinder doesn’t fly around the world delivering presents. Nope, he flies around the world in his Dream Catcher. Clearly an invention of his own making, the Dream Catcher looks like a Jules Vern bicycle powered blimp! It was steam punk, before steam punk was cool. On board, an Audio-Animatronic Dreamfinder pedaled the Dream Catcher through the night sky in search of imagination. His mission was to find sparks of creation.
One of those sparks was, of course, Figment. Check out the podcast to hear how Figment worked his way into the hearts of Disney faithful. The original Journey Into Imagination ran mostly unchanged until 1998.
From the beginning, the pavilion was sponsored by Kodak. As with most sponsorship deals, the agreement called for an update to the ride every 10 years. In anticipation of Epcot’s Millennium Celebration, Kodak and Disney agreed the time had come to update the ride and pavilion. There was only one major problem, money. Neither Kodak nor Disney had a lot of money to put into a refurbishment. If you can remember the good ole’ days of purchasing film for your camera, you will understand the dilemma Kodak faced during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Since this isn’t a podcast on Kodak, I will spare you those details. Parents, I’ll let you give your kids the history lesson on how cameras worked before they came standard on cell phones.
Needless to say, money was tight, and the ideas to update the ride were all over the map. One idea called for a ride based on the 1997 film “Flubber,” while another sought to send guests into the imagination of basketball legend Michael Jordan. I’m not sure what either of those rides would have looked like, but I’m glad we didn’t find out. Desperate to find a good solution, the Imagineers looked next door at the Magic Eye theater. A 3-D show called Honey I Shrunk the Audience was playing to positive reviews. The film was based off of the popular Honey I Shrunk the Kids franchise. It featured Dr. Nigel Channing, a new character created for the theme park film, attempting to honor Wayne Szalinski. The main character from the film franchise was to be awarded “Inventor of the Year.” As you might expect, what can go wrong does go wrong, and a growing calamity ensues during the 23 minute show.
The Imagineers liked the idea of expanding the Imagination Institute, which was introduced in the 3-D show. Ultimately, a pitch to immerse guests in an environment where their senses would be confused and challenged was approved. The new ride would be dubbed Journey Into Your Imagination. In the updated version, Dreamfinder was replaced by Dr. Nigel Channing. The new host served as the tour guide for guests exploring the Imagination Institute. The institute was home for several sensory labs, including sound, color, illusions, gravity, and connections. While the ride vehicles were repurposed for the new ride, the pavilion and ride track were dramatically changed.
The new Journey Into Your Imagination completely reworked the two-story Imagination pavilion. The top floor was all but closed off to the public, and the Image Works was moved downstairs. To make room for this relocation, the ride track was shortened by 40%. The first floor now housed the ride, the Image Works, and the gift shop. Instead of walking into a bright, airy pavilion, guests now entered a tighter, more enclosed space. The new Imagination Institute included a much different color scheme, and any trace of the old pavilion was all but lost. Still, these changes paled in comparison to the changes on the ride.
The new version did not include any of the Audio-Animatronic Figment figures, and the public was quick to show their disapproval. This following quote comes from an Orlando Weekly article published on July 12, 2000.
It’s set the record for the greatest number of complaints a new attraction has ever received at a Disney theme park. It’s the subject of hundreds of angry letters from parents, who accuse the Walt Disney Company of betraying their children’s trust. It’s the cause of furious in-fighting between management and Walt Disney Imagineering. It’s Disney’s decision to redo Epcot’s gentle “Journey into Imagination” ride.
That pretty much sums up the public reception to the new ride after it opened on October 1, 1999. Michael Eisner, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company at the time, agreed with the public and ordered a $5 million dollar refurbishment of the new Journey Into Your Imagination. On October 8, 2001, just 2 years after opening, this version of the ride was closed for good.
Rather than bring back the original version of the ride, Imagineers sought to incorporate the success of Figment with the newer theme of the Imagination Institute. The pavilion’s newer theme and layout remained intact. However, the ride itself got a major overhaul. Seven new show scenes were installed, and only a couple of elements from the second version of the ride survived. One of those was the Gravity room. The whimsical nature of a house being turned upside down was one of the few bright spots of the second version. Still, it lacked character. So, the Gravity Room became Figment’s Upside Down House. The house was repainted with colorful blues and purples, which were then bathed in blacklight. Audio-Animatronic Figments were added to the different rooms and suddenly this portion of the ride really wowed with whimsy.
Journey Into Imagination with Figment continues the idea of a tour by offering guests the chance to experience an Open House at the Imagination Institute. Dr. Nigel Channing is now joined by Figment as the two take riders through the sensory labs. Sight, sound, touch, feel, and taste are planned stops along the way. Figment now has a significant role, determining whether or not things go according to plan. The journey eventually causes Dr. Channing to throw up his arms in surrender as Figment convinces him imagination works best when it is set free. The final scene shows a carefree Channing joining Figment in song as the two sing a new version of “One Little Spark.” The final scene is a callback to the original version, only this time utilizing real sets as opposed to the movie screens. Every AA Figment that could be salvaged from the original ride has been put to good use here. Pay close attention and you will spot Figment holding a rainbow, Astronaut Figment, Mountain Climber Figment and more.
Since it’s opening on June 1, 2002, this version of the ride has been much more well received. Many fans still reminiscence about the original version, but today’s offering is fun for young kids. The Image Works located at the ride’s exit provides some fun interactive elements for small children to further explore sight, sound, color, and more. Just don’t expect to spend a couple of hours at this pavilion, as many did back in its heyday.
For me personally, this is a tough one to rate or recommend. As I said at the beginning, I loved Figment as a kid. That said, I’m not a big fan of the new ride. Sure, it’s nice to see Figment play a role in the ride again, but Dr. Nigel Channing isn’t the same as Dreamfinder. Dr. Channing is played by Eric Idle, and I think he does a wonderful job with the material given him. He has always been on of my favorite Monty Python cast members. It’s just hard to compete with a Santa Claus-like character when you are playing a rather high strung scientist. Dreamfinder is still one of the most beloved characters to come out of Disney Imagineering and Dr. Channing is not.
If you happen to love Dreamfinder, did you know he lives on? Yes, indeed! In 2014, Dreamfinder was reintroduced in comic book form. You can find him in the Disney Kingdoms: Figment comic book. Inside, you can learn about his back story, including his real name. It is nice to see this theme park character get some new life.
Will Dreamfinder ever make a return to Journey Into Imagination? What does the future hold for this ride? Will there be a 4th version? Could there be something completely different taking over the Imagination Pavilion? Check out the podcast for some exciting rumors!