If given the power, and the budget, to re-imagine a part of Walt Disney World, what would it be? Ask any Disney fan this question and you may well launch into a conversation that lasts until the next morning. There are those who would wish to return to the 1980s, and others who may well wish that decade never happened. There is likely not a single attraction on property that the Disney faithful could not think of a way to improve. But for this first edition of this column, let’s just go for broke and head straight to the 800 pound pyramids in the room. Let’s re-imagine Imagination! (again).
Before we start ripping out scenery, let’s take a quick look back at the pavilion’s past, for those who may not remember the multiple versions of this Future World staple. The pavilion itself opened with the rest of EPCOT Center on October 1st, 1982. Ready for opening day was two thirds of the original design, the 3D movie Magic Journeys in the Magic Eye Theater, and ImageWorks, the playground upstairs above the ride. Journey into Imagination (the ride) was not ready for opening day and did not premier until March of the next year. In 1986, Magic Journeys moved to the Magic Kingdom (in the space now occupied by Mickey’s PhilharMagic) to be replaced by Captain EO (remember that show?). Many would use the word “trippy” the describe the early years of this pavilion. In stark contrast to the more serious tone of 80s EPCOT Center, Journey into Imagination celebrated a more free flowing and creative world (the Right Brain of future world, you could say).
Things began to change dramatically in the mid 1990s (a change reflected in Epcot as a whole, as EPCOT Center became Epcot ‘94, then Epcot ‘95, and then just Epcot.) 1994 saw Captain EO being replaced by Honey I Shrunk the Audience. The shows storyline introduced the Imagination Institute, a research center that specialized in the study of the imagination. The Institute would become the backstory for the entire pavilion in 1998, when Journey into Imagination closed. One year later the ride reopened as Journey into Your Imagination, and the pavilion was renamed to simply Imagination! (exclamation point included, as in Oklahoma! or Hello Dolly!). The ImageWorks was moved downstairs to the immediate end of the ride, and the upstairs area was sealed off from guest access. On the positive side, the pavilion once again had a very cohesive theme. Honey I Shrunk the Audience and the original Journey into Imagination were very disconnected from each other. The Imagination Institute theming was actually done quite nicely. On the negative side, the new ride was truly awful, and gained almost universal loathing among both fans and new guests alike. In 2001 Disney closed the ride again. Journey into Imagination with Figment opened in summer of 2002, and remains running to this day. The ride is similar to Journey into Your Imagination, but with Figment now playing a more prominent role. In the summer of 2010, Captain EO returned, replacing Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and throwing the pavilion into a bit of theming disarray once again, with the original inspiration and backstory of the Imagination Institute no longer present at the Imagination Institute.
Given the task of re-imagineering this pavilion, many Disney fans would simply say to return to the mid 80s (we are a third of the way there already) and restore the original attraction. I will admit to often feeling this way myself. I grew up with Dreamfinder and Figment (I still own one of the original Figment plush toys) and have very fond memories of the attraction. I would also easily agree that it is vastly superior to either of the subsequent revisions. I also see little issue in bring back an almost 30 year old attraction because (unlike EO) the overly fantastic theming makes it more timeless than many other attractions from that era. But for the purposes of this exercise, we will not go in that direction. Although we will borrow heavily from it.
The building itself will stay. It is one of the classic Epcot designs and will work very well for a new attraction. The Imagination Institute theme however will go. I actually think the theming was great and the story flowed quite well, but the attractions itself were so-so (I’m being generous). What I would do is return to the more free flowing theme of the original. The story may not be quite as strong but given that this pavilion is supposed to be all about free flowing imagination, it doesn’t need to be as scientifically sound as the others. I want the pavilion to be very inviting for everyone of all ages.
Maybe the biggest change I have in mind for the pavilion is the removal of the Magic Eye Theater. Yes, it has been there since day one, but 3D movies are no longer something special. I am not against 3D movies at Disney parks, they have the best in the business. But we do not need another one here. Instead, I would turn this space into the new ImageWorks. Rather than being at the end of the attraction, ImageWorks would now take on the role of the interactive queueless queue that Disney is now placing everywhere they can. It would not be based on cameras and touchscreens. If it’s in your pocket it’s not in ImageWorks. I would bring back many of the effects of the original, such as the pin tables and coloring books. I would also bring back many of the cool illusions from the old Wonders of Life.
The entire rest of the pavilion would be taken up by the ride itself. For the ride system, imagine a small section of Soarin on a track. The vehicle could use minimal restraints and would utilize 3D screens in addition to audio-animatronics. The vehicle can stop and start independently of others on the track, and will allow for some guest control as well.
After being called to ride from the ImageWorks, guests would enter the loading area. Here we establish the story for our attraction. The Dreamfinder has gone missing, and Figment needs our help to find him. We board our vehicles (that look very much like the one Dreamfinder piloted in the original attraction) and enter the first scene. This first scene is mostly 3D movie with an audio-anamatronic Figment who joins our vehicle. We fly through clouds (think opening of Soarin) that gradually shift into different shapes and colors as we enter the world of our imagination. The background score is One Little Spark, but a modified version of it. You won’t really realize it until later in the attraction as it becomes more obvious.
We then fly into the Creatures room, where various fantasy animals roam. We will see dragons and unicorns, as well as some completely wacky creations. Figment guides us through these creatures, until we find ourselves in front of a very small cute one blocking the path. Figment attempts to move him out of our way, when he transforms into a monster. Our vehicle successfully evades and moves us into the next tunnel. Here figment give us a choice of where to go next, Music or Science. We vote on our vehicle (yes Horizons style) and the majority vote determines the next set of 3D scenes our vehicle will encounter.
The next room is Nightmares. We emerge into darkness, as slowly the AA characters around us come to life. Figment fies around as we dodge the objects and monsters flying at us. But we get cornered and cannot move any further. Just then the voice of the Dreamfinder breaks through the darkness and instructs us to use our imagination. Suddenly the room brightens and the monsters and objects around us transform. We now get to hear the full sung One Little Spark as our vehicle begins to head up into the glass pyramids.
At the top we finally see Dreamfinder. From here we get an excellent view out into Future World. This view to the outside is gradually faded out as we transition into one more 3D film sequence reuniting Figment with the Dreamfinder. From here we progress into the finale where we get to hear the full One Little Spark and even see photos of ourselves projected into the action on 3D. The action fades away into a star field. Keeping one effect from the current edition of the attraction, the star field fades away to reveal the unload area.
This attraction would use many of the much loved elements from the original ride, while fully taking advantage of the advances in technology in the last 30 years. It would be a sequel of sorts to the original, but would not require any previous knowledge to be enjoyed. This attraction would also be a major E-ticket addition to Epcot, replacing one of the most poorly attended one in the park. I has characters everyone loves, just the right amounts of thrills that it would still be for everyone, and would allow Disney to continue pushing the envelope in what can be done in the parks.