Monday, March 5, 2018

Happy 35th Anniversary to Journey Into Imagination: An Attraction I Never Got To See But That I Dearly Love

(Mark Goebel on Flickr)
Today, the original version of Journey Into Imagination, an incredible attraction exploring the realms of imagination with the marvelous Dreamfinder and his lovable impish Figment of the imagination, celebrates the 35th anniversary of its opening. I wish so badly I could write that this also marks 35 years of Journey Into Imagination's existence. But sadly, this remarkable ride that sparked the inspiration and creativity of a whole generation of EPCOT Center visitors is long gone - the original ride and Imageworks will have been closed for 20 years this October. In 1999, Disney World and the rest of the world was subjected to the sheer horror that was Journey Into YOUR Imagination. A disastrous refurbishment had drastically shortened the ride path, cutting the ride's duration in half. Figment and Dreamfinder had disappeared, replaced by Dr. Nigel Channing, a professor who proceeded to give riders a tour of the barren, heartless and souless Imagination Institute. To add further insult to injury, this was all accompanied by the sad closure and abandonment of the original Imageworks in favor of a far inferior one downstairs that occupied former ride space. As Guest Relations at Epcot was overwhelmed by the numerous and loud complaints about the new attraction, infant me slept in a crib far away, fated to never see the Imagination Pavilion in its original glory. By the time I was two and a half years old, Journey into YOUR Imagination was a month away from its hasty closure, a swift and merciful execution of a ride that at the time was rivaled only by Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management for the title of worst attraction at Walt Disney World. A year later, Journey Into Imagination With Figment opened to a public eager about the news that Figment would return to the ride he should have never gone away from. For those hoping for a return of the classic original ride, however, reality was disappointing. Journey Into Imagination With Figment inherited the bones of its unloved predecessor and a shoestring budget meant that the third incarnation of Journey Into Imagination was not much more then a patch job doing the bare minimum to attempt to address the issues guests had with Journey Into YOUR Imagination. Sure, Figment was back, but he was not the lovable fellow so childlike and curious as he followed Dreamfinder on a journey of imagination. Instead, he became an annoying agitator, disrupting Dr. Nigel Channing's dull open house of the Imagination Institute concerning the five senses, obnoxious to the point where he turned into a skunk and sprayed guests with noxious skunk scent! Meanwhile, the downstairs Imageworks remained in a pathetic state, and the original Imageworks lay intact but abandoned upstairs. Since then, the only changes to the Imagination pavilion have been the revival of Captain Eo and its replacement by Pixar Short Film Festival in the 3-D film show building, the reopening of the upstairs lobby as a DVC lounge, and the depressing gutting and removal of the Rainbow Tunnel and other parts of the old Imageworks. In a testament to the countless people of corporate standing at Disney who couldn't or wouldn't fix one of Disney World's biggest mistakes, Journey Into Imagination With Figment has now officially outlasted the original Journey Into Imagination by a few weeks and counting.

(Loren Javier on Flickr)
 Journey Into Imagination With Figment is the only version of the Imagination attraction I have ever personally experienced, and oddly enough, it used to be one of my favorite attractions at Walt Disney World. Besides the obvious elements of the ride that were amusing for a much younger me and many other children at that age, there was always something special about Figment, something that made me look past all the times he emitted that awful odor, and made me wonder sometimes why on earth he was doing such things at all. But the thing that most captivated me about Journey Into Imagination with Figment was its finale, where the boring Imagination Institute was literally blown away, and various Figments doing different things followed by Figment and Channing in the moon in the stars at last showcased something close to the real power of imagination and creativity. "One Little Spark" was and is still one of my absolute favorite Disney theme park songs. This was the song that I would be singing as me and my dad walked through the Epcot parking lot late at night to get to our car, and it is perhaps the only reason I ever really liked Journey Into Imagination With Figment at all. I first heard about the original version of Journey Into Imagination many years ago, but it wasn't until much later that I watched videos of the spectacular original ride and Imageworks in their prime. I haven't ridden Journey Into Imagination With Figment since my 16th birthday, when me and my dad spent the day at the trifecta of Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom. Although the time had long since passed when he could carry me on my shoulders as we went to the car, I still sang "One Little Spark" into the dark night sky. Nowadays, I've joined a great number of people who are nostalgic for an amazing attraction they never got to experience, and together with those who did, we express our immense appreciation of Journey Into Imagination, our great sadness at its loss, and our deep hopes that someday Dreamfinder and Figment will be reunited, and that together they'll take us on a grand and beautiful journey into the imagination again, or in my case, for the first time. 

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