30 Years of Imagination
30 years ago, today, on March 5th 1983, the original Journey Into Imagination premiered.
A thesis statement on the creative process, this attraction served as a capstone for how EPCOT Center was perceived. It was a experience in abstraction, and while not necessary tied to the core message of futurism, it portrayed imagination as the impetus for the wonders that EPCOT Center espoused. This was the ride that provided the ethos and baseline for how most fans of EPCOT Center fondly remember the original version of the park. Imagination’s warmth and message delighted those of us who were hopeful for technology, art, and our own perceptions of how we could influence the wider world.
The original ride was timeless, graceful, whimsical, and exceptionally artful. It didn’t have a concrete narrative, nor did it have a hard pressed link to Future World. It’s merit was the experience of the ride itself, and it’s message: That with imagination, all things were possible, and thus, that’s how the future was dreamt up and created.
The ride itself was the classic EPCOT Center omnimover, but it had some frills to it’s technical specifications. Groups of vehicles could link up and form trains at certain points in the ride, most notably for the ride’s first few minutes. During the introduction to the ride, the ride vehicles would link up to a central “turntable” and travel at an equal speed to a revolving show piece. (It was here that guests were introduced to Dreamfinder and Figment during the “Flight Into Imagination”) This technicality proved to be one of the most complex pieces of the pavilion…and was responsible for the later opening date for the pavilion. When EPCOT Center opened on Oct 1 1982, the ride was suffering malfunctions and not ready to open. It would take 5 more months to perfect WED’s Imagination Pavilion.
The pavilion itself was primarily the brainchild of Tony Baxter, though Barry Braverman and Walter Peregoy assisted in providing detail and texture to the pavilion. Peregoy’s influence of abstract colors and shapes is most clearly found in the atrium’s mural that depicted the ride’s loose story. Tony Baxter, though, spearheaded the pavilion and is responsible for the characters of Dreamfinder and Figment. The dynamic duo stemmed from Baxter’s earlier ideas to create a steampunk inspired land in Disneyland called Discovery Bay… with a Professor Marvel… who bred dragons. When a sponsors finally coalesced for EPCOT Center’s line up, this idea was chosen to head up Kodak’s “image and media pavilion”, the last to be brokered for. The pavilion’s exterior borrowed heavily from an earlier idea for an ecology pavilion, which had been quietly molded into what would become The Land. Journey into Imagination’s crystalline shape is an attribute of those earlier plans.
In 1998, Kodak’s sponsorship agreement called for changes… and considering that afore mentioned turntable had always proved to be problematic, it was removed, and the ride shortened. The track bed still exists underneath the false floor of the current queue, and waits to be used. The ride, now named Journey Into YOUR Imagination, lost nearly everything that made it special and above all, imaginative. The airy and detailed sets were lost, Figment removed, and the idea of a “Imagination Institute” set as the narrative for the ride.
Proving to be hugely unpopular, Journey into YOUR Imagination closed within two years of opening and was retooled to open in 2003 with much of the same theme and effects that the previous version had, but added back Figment to the mix.
By no means a solution to the debacle to the mess that has become the Imagination pavilion, there at least is solace in the fact that the original character and one of the stars of EPCOT Center DID return.
But, on this, the 30th anniversary of the ride’s opening, an optimistic look to the future is appropriate. Tony Baxter (who sadly recently retired from Imagineering) has said on multiple accounts that the current pavilion no longer functions as intended. Ron Schnieder, the gentleman who lent a voice to Dreamfinder concurs. And Marty Sklar, one of the WED greats who is solely responsible for the words and language that crafted EPCOT Center into the exceptional entity that it is, frequently calls for changes to revitalize EPCOT back into upholding it’s lofty goals. With this in mind, Imagination is a blank canvas… waiting for a new attraction to grace it. On the 30th anniversary of Dreamfinder, and of the Dreamport, and of Figment, it is only fitting to think of the “one little spark” that will one day ignite one of EPCOT Center’s more vital pavilions yet again.
Happy 30th, Imagination!