Friday, 24 February 2012

ReImagining Imagination

I figured it was about time I wrote something that wasn’t totally retrospective, so time for some Backseat Re-Imagineering.

For those of you who don’t know, an Imagineer is a Disney term used to describe someone who works in the department (Imagineering or sometimes referred to as WED) responsible for dreaming up and designing the rides, shows and attractions that you find in a Disney park; the term is a mixture of Imagination and Engineering.

Now I know there are some people who think that I love everything about Disney full stop. But if anything, my love for Disney makes me hate certain aspects of it that either do not live up to expectation/standards or that were special and then allowed to degrade or changed for the worse. As I described in my history with Disney blog a few weeks ago, my return to WDW in 2006 and shock when riding the Journey Into Imagination with Figment attraction was one of the elements that drove me to start looking behind the kayfabe line to find out what had happened; so I think I’ll start with some Backseat Re-Imagineering here.

But first; some back story.

When I first visited Walt Disney World in 1985 there were two theme parks, the Magic Kingdom and the futuristic EPCOT Centre; which had been open for a couple of years at that point but was still considered very new. EPCOT Centre is split into two halves, Future World and World Showcase; the former being a series of pavilions dedicated to a science or theme, the latter being a string of pavilions that surround a body of water (World Showcase Lagoon) each representing a country.

At the age of 9, I have to admit that World Showcase didn’t do a whole lot for me; who am I kidding? at the age of 35 World Showcase still doesn’t interest me hugely apart from on a culinary basis. I think this is one of the reasons the Kim Possible game nowadays is so fantastic because it gives the kids (small and big) something to do in the countries while the adults take in the cultural aspects. So for me, EPCOT Center was mostly about Future World which at the time had several great rides and attractions. Show based, the Kitchen Kabaret (The Land) and Backstage Magic (Communicore) were both favourites of the family. Universe of Energy was popular with it’s huge dinosaurs, Horizons was ridden many many times with family collaboration on which ending we wanted to see each time. But out of all the pavilions, the Imagination Pavilion was “the” one that my sister and I most enjoyed being at. Unfortunately, none of what I just mentioned still exists in its original form if any form at all.

The building itself was magical in its appearance with two glass pyramids that glistened in the Florida sun; it can still be seen in the background of my avatar on Twitter. The surrounding area was usually full of kids and families; the reverse waterfall and leaping fountains, which back in the day leapt high in the air, providing fun entertainment. And then you had the roaming Dreamfinder character played by Ron Shneider, who voiced the character in the second half of the ride, and carried an appropriately sized Figment puppet which he manipulated to life. At the time, Dreamfinder and Figment were the only characters in EPCOT Center, Figment being “the” icon for almost all child based park merchandise; so he by default became a huge hit and a definite “must meet” for all fans; which I quickly became one of. Inside the pavilion, the magic continued with a huge mural depicting Dreamfinder and Figment where the line for the main Journey Into Imagination attraction wound, the whole place having a joyous feel with upbeat music and bright light. The attraction itself was a classic dark ride where your vehicle slowly moved past set pieces accompanied by the song “One Little Spark” by the Sherman Brothers. One element of the attraction that differed it from other dark rides was the opening scene which instead of being moved past, travelled with you around a turntable allowing the riders to see a long introduction from start to finish.

Upstairs was the 3D theatre which originally housed the Magic Journeys film but was soon replaced by Captain EO (after which I believe the pavilion reached its highest peak in my opinion), the ImageWorks and the Sensor/Rainbow Corridor which was so memorable and iconic to the pavilion. And of course, upstairs had the great view out over the surrounding area through the glass walls.

My Dad, Sister and I in the Sensor/Rainbow Corridor

The last time I visited EPCOT Center and the Imagination pavilion in its original form was 1993; my next visit wouldn’t be until 2006 and I was clueless to change. As we approached the pavilion the area was surprisingly quiet compared to how I remembered this family focal point in the park, and I straight away noticed that elements of the Honey I Shrunk The Audience (HISTA, which I had seen in Paris) had taken over some theming on the outside. As we entered the pavilion I was very aware that rather than entering the large open foyer that I remembered we were instead entering a much darker closed off space also re-themed to HISTA; however my “what the hell??” reaction was put on hold because Gage (aged almost 3) was chosen by cast members to become a scientist and was dressed up and given a certificate. So between that all happening and the picture of Robin Williams and figurine of Weebo (which made Tara very happy) concerns weren’t really at the forefront as we walked straight through the empty line area. I still expected the attraction to be the same, even if the pavilion had been totally re-themed, after all, who would mess with one of the best dark rides in the entire of WDW?

Gage being made a member of the Imagination Institute

And then we rode it.

I came off the attraction in shock at how it had been changed, but the shocks didn’t end there as I soon realised that upstairs too no longer existed or was at least not accessible; a pavilion that had been so joyous and full of wonder 20 years earlier had been completely stripped of all that made it special. I thought at first that maybe it was partly me that had changed, through the eyes of an adult and not a child and all that; but the fact that Gage was totally non-engaged with Figment, not wanting a T-shirt or plush, confirmed my feeling that it had indeed been ruined.

Eric Idle may be a star for many things; but he killed Dreamfinder
and one of my favourite attractions. He's not the Messiah, 
he's a very naughty chairman of the Imagination Institute!!

I later learnt that this “new” version (to me) was actually the third incarnation of the ride and that if I thought this was bad, the second incarnation was so bad that it received a record number of formal complaints and thus the third version was to improve on that.

Rather than give the complete history though, after all this is supposed to be my Backseat Re-Imagineering column and not a history one, I suggest watching these videos put together by the amazing; this shows the pavilion in its original glory and a very descriptive history of how and what was changed; it even has pretty diagrams to show how the pavilion was re-engineered with the tracks to fit everything in the single floor.

You can also read the transcript of Lou Mongello’s interview with Ron Shneider here, or just listen to episode 34 of the WDW Radio Podcast.

So, history out the way; here is what I would like to do with the pavilion in it’s fourth incarnation; Re-Imagineered by me.

First of all, it is out with everything that refers to the “Imagination Institute”; Captain EO is losing steam and there is no way I am putting HISTA back in the 3D theatre. So I want to take out all the inner walls and return the nice big foyer with the sun beaming in through the glass roof. The ImageWorks is also going back upstairs where it belongs, so that is coming out of the downstairs area to give the space back to the new dark ride (as a third of the original ride track was boarded over to create this space in the retheming). The retail space can stay.

Now until this point I probably have every EPCOT Center and Imagination pavilion fan on my side; time to disgust a few of them.

While I prefer “old” EPCOT Center to Epcot, I am not a purist and I have no problem with there being characters in the park. So while I fully want to re-establish Dreamfinder and Figment as the main characters and icons of Epcot or at least this pavilion; I want to make this whole pavilion themed around them in conjunction with Phineas and Ferb. I know I have probably ruffled more than a few feathers already, but please stick with me and hear this out. P&F are the perfect match for this pavilion; everything they do, every episode at its core, is about imagination, innovation and invention. Plus their popularity with all generations should allow it to be accepted without alienating any demographic. They fit.

Pavilion Entrance

So, we now enter the new/old spacious foyer area and it’s bright with a mixture of music being played including instrumentals of P&F songs and of course One Little Spark. The downstairs should be themed very much like it used to be with the mural or similar adorning the walls and whimsical shapes.

Ideally, the P&F meet and greet would be moved from Hollywood Studios to inside the atrium; the energy, music and dancing would make the wait time more entertaining and fireside girls would also entertain and involve children in the line (much like they do in Disney’s Calafornia Adventure P&F Dance Party).

Phineas & Ferb’s Journey Into Imagination

The attraction itself almost returns to original form but with a few important changes to make it operationally viable; it does however regain its lost track for length. Obviously the long introduction turntable has to go in any new re-imagineering of the original ride as it was so operationally problematic that it can’t be expected to be brought back; but I don’t think it needs to be either. It has appeared customary for the name to change in each incarnation of the attraction; while calling it P&F’s Journey into Imagination makes the most sense, I would prefer it retake it’s original name.


There are three ways that the pre-show could be done to set the story and I think any of them would be sufficient; although would prefer the more expensive options. The cheapest way would be to do it as a comic strip mural on the wall near the start of the attraction, visible from the queue line; obviously this has the draw back of requiring guests to read it and take notice. The next level up would be to use screens and animate the segment which would have the additional benefit of sound; but perhaps be a little repetitive on a loop. The most elaborate way would be to have the scene done using animatronics just prior to boarding the vehicle.

As for the scene itself, it’s very simple. Phineas and Ferb are in the backyard with their friends; Isabella asks “What’cha dooooing?” to which Phineas explains that they couldn’t think of anything to do today, so they have built an “Imagination Rover” vehicle capable of travelling into their imaginations to get some ideas; showing the new ride vehicle as being the vehicle in question. And then they invite the gang and you along for the journey.


The new ride vehicles seat people in three rows of three or four. The vehicle itself has a distinctly large nose piece that protrudes in front of the seating to represent the cockpit area in which P&F are supposedly situated. In the middle of each row is a wide screen which shows inside the cockpit and so has animated P&F showing on it doing pre-journey safety checks; the screen should be wide enough to be able to show a pan of the cockpit and thus both boys at all time in a static view.

Journey into Imagination:
After turning the corner out of loading bay view, Ferb hits the “Go” button and the vehicle is transported into “Imagination”. The symbolism of this happening would be a trip through a Rainbow/Sensor Corridor much like the pre-existing one upstairs; this gives relevance and representation for the tunnels.

Once inside the “imagination” things would be bright and colourful and cloudy (like before) and you would hear One Little Spark being sung in the distance while seeing the projections of the Dream Mobile flying by; very similar to the original ride.

Turntable Replacement Scene:

The next scene would replace the original extended turntable scene but is best described as a shortened version of it. The vehicle would slowly move past the Dream Mobile with P&F meeting and conversing with the Dreamfinder and him introducing, rather than creating, Figment through song; as you wouldn’t be able to time his creation lift with multiple vehicles constantly being moved past. In order to make this work the voice sound would not be on a loop in the scene, but would instead emanate from inside the ride vehicle allowing the whole entry to exit of the scene for the story to be told and yet not be odd because Dreamfinder’s beard covers his mouth sufficiently that riders cannot tell the lip sync does not match with the audio.

Rest of Ride:

From this point on, the attraction would pretty much be back to its original version, although with updated effects, as the Dreamfinder and Figment take P&F on the journey through imagination visiting the Dream Port and other areas. The main addition to the old attraction would be additional comments coming from P&F in the cockpit area where they would point out certain aspects and things that can be seen; they may even be tempted to join in singing One Little Spark in the finale scene.

And so that is my Backseat Re-Imagineered attraction. Now to be honest, I haven’t changed much other than take it back to the original attraction and solve the turntable problem; and that is purposeful because the original ride was so good and should never have been ruined so badly in the first place. The biggest addition to the attraction is not so much adding P&F themselves, but that the boys give both reason and ability for the journey to happen. Most importantly, despite the character injection, Dreamfinder and Figment should still be the stars of the attraction.

So if Dreamfinder and Figment are still the stars of the attraction with P&F in an enabling role; why bring them in?? Well, that’s where the rest of the pavilion comes in.

Magic Eye Theatre

Even before the passing of Michael Jackson and resurrection of Captian EO; HISTA had run its course and needed to go; now it is time for something new. Sticking with the theme, I would make an extended Phineas & Ferb 3D episode to go into the theatre; which would be synergistic to everything else in the pavilion.

3D Movie Plot:

Dr Doofenschmirtz’s new plan to take over the Tri-State area is to destroy everyone’s imagination with his brand new “Imaginationawayinator”; although he of course will be immune because of his hat. While Agent P is dispatched to stop Doofenschmirtz, P&F having another imagination wise slow day, decide to pay Dreamfinder and Figment a visit using the Imagination Rover; thus tying the movie in as a sequel of sorts to the attraction and keeping everything together. Once arriving at the Dream Port, P&F find Dreamfinder and Figment (in animated form) very worried as something seems very wrong; levels of Imaginaition are dangerously low. Dreamfinder dispatches P&F to try and stimulate levels of imagination while he does what he can to stop the Dream Port from caving in, which as per usual would lead into a song montage which should pay homage to One Little Spark as P&F travel in the rover helping imagination fight back. Meanwhile Agent P and Doofenschmirtz will have their usual battles, although Agent P will be feeling the lack of imagination too, and be captured within a diabolical contraption.

However, something P&F spark within imagination will get through to Agent P and he will use the split second to switch hats with Doofenschmirtz thus starting his comeback which, as usual, results in the reverse switch being flipped on the Imaginationawayinator and Doofenschmirtz suffering an ironic ending. Coincidentally, just as Agent P flips the reverse switch, P&F along with Dreamfinder and Figment make one last, dire moment, gigantic effort to fight back for Imagination and, to them at least, Imagination is fully restored; thus covering up Agent P’s involvement. Happy Ending.
Whereas the attraction focused on Dreamfinder and Figment with P&F as secondary characters, the 3D movie should be just the opposite; allowing the pavilion to remain balanced but with continuity throughout.


Returning to it’s rightful place on the second floor, the Imageworks would be completely updated with similar games, but taken to a new level. Preferably there would be some theming around the Rainbow/Sensor Corridor, everything on the glass window end of it should seem quite normal, whereas everything on the other end should seem more Imagination themed; again expressing that the tunnel is a transporter from one world to another.

The photo machines should be used reprogrammed to superimpose players into P&F scenes and famous attractions, and it would be very cool if some of the more iconic contraptions were built as statues or play areas. The musical instrument game should have animated Figment conducting them flying around the instruments, but could be doubled as a living character initiative as he could be operated ala Crush in Turtle Talk and could interact with those playing, asking their names and cheering them on; the song repertoire could also include P&F classics as well as Spark.

In general the Imageworks should be heavily influenced by all four main characters of the pavilion; however I would like to see one station set up for Dr Doofenschmirtz where guests could invent their most evil “inator”. A very good character actor portraying Doofenschmirtz in the area could really work. 

Obvioulsy I would also like to see the return of the Dreamfinder and Figment puppet (not the 6ft tall Figment) for meet and greets. I think this could be done inside the pavilion in an area of the ImageWorks where he could have an area set up that allows him to trigger effects thus adding to the magic. 


It’s a Disney pavilion, it has to have retail; but that shouldn’t be a problem in this new pavilion as it can be full of Figment merchandise (which may sell like it used to again with the attraction returned to former glory) and of course the complete P&F merchandise range.

And so that is my complete Backseat Re-Imagineering of the Imagination Pavilion; a mixture of returning the old to its former self with a little updating and refreshing, and introducing a fresh and current franchise into the mix and spreading the theme and continuity throughout. I hope you liked my ideas, I’m sure most fans of the original pavilion have their own thoughts and wishes for it in the future; although for many I think it is just a return to the past. Please post your thoughts on what I have come up as well as your own; I think Phineas and Ferb are the perfect fit for the theme, but I’m sure you guys have ideas just as good.

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Speak Soon :)


  1. I loved that ride :) I even got the toy afterwards :D

  2. I love Journey Into Imagination and really think it should be in the pavilion again. However, I'm kinda against the whole P+F pavilion idea. You can call me a Figment lover or whatever, but the whole idea of Epcot is "The Living Blueprint of The Future". Now the imagination pavilion doesn't really go along with this, but I think it was meant to be put in to show where your imagination can get you and how the future can be modeled after your imagination. I just don't see how P+F can fit in here. They may be popular in today's day and age but what about in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? It could easily die out. So thats my opinion on the subject


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