One little spark, of inspiration
Is at the heart, of all creation.
Right at the start, of everything that’s new.
One little spark, lights up for you.

So there are a lot of rumors floating around the internet lately about adding more Disney IP to Epcot at Walt Disney World. “IP” stands for “intellectual property” and in this case refers to property that The Walt Disney Company already owns–Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, etc. Whether or not you believe that there’s a place for Disney IP like Frozen, Ratatouille or Guardians of the Galaxy at Epcot, I’d like to table that discussion for one that I feel is more important–Epcot’s original IP–Dreamfinder and Figment.

Dreamfinder and Figment inside the ImageWorks Rainbow Tunnel

To understand the importance of Dreamfinder and Figment’s role in Epcot, you really have to look back at Walt’s original ideas for “The Florida Project” and “Epcot Center.” Walt wanted Walt Disney World to have the “blessing of size”–exactly what he and the Imagineers didn’t have when they built Disneyland in Anaheim. So the 43-square-mile project would not only include a theme park, but hotels, motels, leisure activities, an airport, and industrial park and all the other ideas Walt and the Imagineers “could possibly imagine.”

But according to Walt, the most important part of the Florida Project would be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow–EPCOT. Located in the middle of the Florida project, the city would be inspired by new ideas and new technologies and would continually evolve by introducing, testing and demonstrating new systems and new materials. It would be a “showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.” This “living blueprint of the future” would allow people to “live a life they couldn’t find anywhere else in the world.” The original model for Walt’s version of EPCOT can still be seen as you ride Tomorrowland Transit Authority at the Magic Kingdom in Florida. To learn more about the Florida Project and EPCOT, watch the “Disneyland, U.S.A.” video below.

Sadly, not long after the above video was made, Walt was diagnosed with lung cancer. After his death, Roy Disney deferred his retirement so he and the WED Imagineers could continue on with Walt’s plan for “the Florida Project.” Roy convinced the Disney Board of Directors to move forward with the plan, but only the first phase. So the Magic Kingdom and its surrounding resort area opened in 1971 and quickly became the number one vacation destination in the world. Parts of the overall plan–new modes of transportation, solar energy and new forms of waste management –were included phase one with a plan to expand them as the Resort expanded. In the late 1970s, Walt Disney Productions moved on to phase two and decided to build a second theme park in Florida. But Walt’s vision for EPCOT evolved from a futuristic city where people lived and worked into a permanent World’s Fair theme park–Future World would showcase technology while World Showcase would highlight other countries from around the globe. Here’s the original EPCOT Center film from the Magic Kingdom preview center–The Dream Called EPCOT.

Did you notice anything missing from that video? In part to honor Walt’s original vision and in part to differentiate it from the exiting Disney Theme Parks, Disney characters were not initially included at EPCOT Center. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Pluto and all their Disney friends would stay just up the monorail line at the Magic Kingdom. So where did that leave EPCOT Center? Well, when the park opened on October 1, 1982, the characters at Epcot Center were the characters from the various Future World and World Showcase pavilions–from famous Americans in the American Adventure to historical figures who advanced communication in Spaceship Earth.

Each pavilion had a corporate sponsor to help fund construction and maintenance in exchange for various marketing elements in the park–General Electric sponsored Horizons, Universe of Energy was sponsored by Exxon and The Land was sponsored by Kraft. The Land pavilion was initially sponsored by a logging company and Imagineer Tony Baxter had already designed a pavilion for them that included a dark ride where guests rode in hot air balloons through various ecosystems during different seasons. But in 1978 the logging company dropped their sponsorship, and so a new concept for The Land was brought in to focus more on agriculture and food to better tie into the sponsorship by Kraft Foods. And so, Tony Baxter was instead asked to come up with an idea for a new pavilion for long-time Disney partner Kodak. While the theme of the pavilion had not yet been determined, the location had. The pavilion in Future World was set to be just south of The Land pavilion and could be anything as long as it was “very imaginative” per the team at Kodak.

Dreamfinder and Figment aboard the Dreamcatcher

So Tony Baxter started working on an imaginative concept for Kodak, and soon came up with an idea of a floating machine that traveled around the world collecting “sparks of imagination.” Baxter pulled out his unused concepts for Discovery Bay at Disneyland and found that some of the ideas he had proposed could work for this new pavilion. So his Professor Marvel’s Gallery of Wonders carousel attraction was adapted to become Journey Into Imagination. Professor Marvel became the Dreamfinder, a kindly professorial-type man who pilots his floating craft looking for new ideas.

Baxter knew that simply showing the complex process of imagination would seem like a boring lecture. “A persona was needed to give the process personality, but having a human character seemed too selective. A friendly imaginary being that could delight in the wonders of imagination would be more inclusive.” As the story goes, Baxter was watching the episode of “Magnum, P.I.” where Magnum left a goat in Higgins’ yard that had eaten all the grass. After Higgins complained, Magnum told him that the goat must’ve been a figment of his imagination. Higgins replied, “Figments don’t eat grass!” A spark of imagination and Figment was born.

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, viola!, you’ve got a Figment.

Concept for Dreamfinder and Figment by Imagineer Steve Kirk

The team at Imagineering next tackled the story they would tell–a journey that mirrored the process of imagination highlighted by the end products of it–art, literature, film, television, theater and science. Information is gathered, be it words, sounds, colors, ideas, or scientific facts, in this case by the Dreamcatcher piloted by the Dream Finder. Then the information is stored and processed in the brain before it is translated and rearranged, and emerges as a new idea or thought.

We all have sparks, imaginations.
That’s how our minds, create creations.
Right at the start, of everything that’s new.
One little spark lights up for you.

Instead of describing the attraction scene by scene, check out the video below and watch Journey Into Imagination in all its glory for yourself.

Journey Into Imagination opened on March 5, 1983, and was an instant hit. Guests loved Dreamfinder and Figment as they truly represented everything that EPCOT Center stood for–dreams, imagination, technology, exploration and learning. The characters began making appearances in Future World and Figment merchandise was soon available throughout the park. They truly were the original IP of EPCOT Center. So what happened?

Well, in 1999 the attraction was updated and reopened as Journey Into YOUR Imagination. Dreamfinder and Figment were gone and the shorter ride featured an updated theme based on the 3-D attraction Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. The new version of the attraction was not well received, so just two years later, the attraction was redone again. This time, Figment was back, but Dreamfinder and the original heart of the classic attraction were still missing.

So will the characters from Inside Out move into the Imagination Pavilion? Will Figment be there too? Will Disney Imagineering realize that they have existing IP that they can add back into Epcot? Only time will tell. But one thing is certain–the original attraction from Tony Baxter and Steve Kirk is a Disney classic that will live on forever–if only in our imagination.

Imagination, imagination.
A dream, can be a dream come true.
With just that spark, in me and you.

Future World Concept Art from the Parks & Resorts Panel at D23 Expo 2017

Post D23 Expo 2017 Update:

While an update to Future World at Epcot was discussed, the focus was on a new outer space restaurant and new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. The Imagination Pavilion was not mentioned and was even cropped out of the concept art they showed. Stay tuned for more updates!

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