Ever since the golden era of EPCOT Center, a lovable fellow with two tiny wings and eyes big and yellow with horns of a steer has established himself as an iconic Disney theme park character that has acquired a mass of diehard devotees across multiple generations. This fantastical creature, adorned head to toe with royal purple pigment, has been a Walt Disney World staple since the early 1980s, and nowadays, you can find this fabrication of one's mind acting as the unofficial mascot of Epcot, as evidenced by his excessive presence on festival merchandise and more. Furthermore, in a day and age in which all aspects of retro Epcot have been slowly but surely fazed out, he has survived not one, not two, but three separate versions of the Journey Into Imagination attraction located in Future World West. Against all odds, the venerated Figment has endured and has thus passed the test of time. Long after the demise of other attractions from Epcot's heyday, Figment and his attraction are still standing.
But why? Why is Figment allowed to survive while the entire park around it significantly evolves?
Now, please do not misunderstand where I am coming from with this question. As I stated in my post from last week, I consider myself to be somewhat of an Epcot purist, so Figment holds a special place in my heart to a degree. Alongside the Dreamfinder and the original incarnation of Journey Into Imagination, Figment epitomized the specialness of EPCOT Center. The entire Imagination pavilion was a work of Imagineering art from the physical structure to the whimsical magic on display aboard the ride itself, and Figment was the key to its entire success. It is impossible to think about old school Epcot without also thinking about Figment, for our beloved purple dragon contributed substantially to the legacy of vintage EPCOT Center.
That was then, though, and this is now.
Photo courtesy of the Disney Parks Blog
In the late 1990s, Disney decided to reimagine the Imagination attraction, changing it from Journey Into Imagination to Journey Into Your Imagination. The Dreamfinder was replaced with Eric Idle's Dr. Nigel Channing, and Figment himself experienced a drastic character change. Figment was a costar in the original version of the attraction, an inspiring and genial spirit that entertained guests of all ages, but in this updated version, his role was reduced to small cameos as he was relegated to being a mere minor supporting character. With these unwelcomed changes, Imagineers had ripped out the soul of the ride and the pavilion itself, and fans responded accordingly, rightfully opting to express their disappointment in this new yet far-from-improved version of the attraction. As a result, Journey Into Your Imagination lasted only two years, and with its closing, it was time to go back to the drawing board.
In 2002, Journey Into Imagination with Figment debuted with Figment in an expanded role and the Sherman Brothers' earworm "One Little Spark" reinserted to hopefully satisfy the angry mob of fans. With these alleged improvements, Imagineers hoped to recapture the magic of the original attraction, but upon this new version's debut, it was clear that the original spark had dissipated entirely. Figment, a constant source of entertainment from 1983 through 1998, had become a nuisance, essentially acting like an annoying mosquito on a humid Florida night. He was no longer a joy but was rather bothersome, an aggravating presence in an attraction that had become a shell of its former glorious self. Figment's role had certainly increased, but at what cost? In the span of half a decade, Figment had gone from adored to abhorred.
Now, over the past several years as this version of the attraction continues to operate, fans have convinced themselves that Figment is above criticism as well-intentioned people seek to hold on tight to the last remaining remnants of EPCOT Center from the past. Fueled by nostalgia and by memories from yesteryear, Figment has developed and sustained an unrivaled cult following amongst Epcot purists and casual vacationers alike. However, the truth of the matter is this: Figment has been an irritant longer than he has been an inspiration. The original version of Journey Into Imagination, and therefore the original version of Figment, survived for fifteen years, but we are currently in year twenty-one of Figment's troublesome reign of disturbance if you combine the years of operation for Journey Into Your Imagination with the years of operation for Journey Into Imagination with Figment to this point. It has been over two decades since Figment was anything but an exasperation, and it is time for us to officially let him go.
Epcot fans from all walks of life need to come to grips with the reality that prime Figment is gone and has been for a while, and we need to accept the fact that the characterization of modern-day Figment is a stain on the legacy of the Imagination pavilion. The way Disney has treated Figment since the late nineties is nothing short of disgraceful and quite disrespectful to the original Imagineers who created a character for the ages. What once was a wonderful character has now become nothing more than a marketing ploy, with the attraction serving as merely a grand commercial for Figment merchandise. We need to stop trying to convince ourselves that the latest incarnations of Figment and Journey Into Imagination with Figment are exceptional. Undoubtedly, Figment and his attraction were remarkable once upon a time, but those days are long gone. Today, they are both black eyes on the once-proud theme park, a dismal footnote in the grand story of EPCOT Center, and for the good of Imagination's legacy, I believe it is time for Disney to retire Figment and have his characterization faults be consigned to oblivion.
The attraction presently operating in Epcot needs to be completely redone and infused with new life. I advocate for the creation of something entirely new, perhaps an attraction based on a well-known intellectual property such as Pixar's Inside Out. At the end of the day, I would do something- anything- to help restore some honor to the Imagination pavilion. It has been a rotting corpse for far too long and now is the time to breathe some life back into it by any means necessary. Barring intervention by Disney Legend Tony Baxter, I think the best course of action to accomplish this is to let Figment retire with what little dignity he has left. It pains me to even think about an Epcot without a Figment-led Imagination pavilion, but the right decisions are oftentimes the hardest ones to make.
The original Journey Into Imagination is one of the best attractions ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering, and Figment is one of the greatest character creations in Disney theme park history without question. It is for the sake of these legacies that I believe now is the time for fans and for Disney to say farewell to Figment and his attraction for good. Right now, it may be possible that more people know Figment from merchandise items that from his own attraction (those wait times are never long, you know), and do we really want him to go down in history that way? Time can heal all wounds, and with retirement and closure, we will soon forget about the last twenty-one years and begin to rewire our brains to primarily remembering peak Figment instead of rock-bottom Figment.
Photo courtesy of the Disney Parks Blog
I know it may sound counter-intuitive to suggest that, for Figment to be remembered well, his attraction needs to close, but I think the attraction closing would do more for Figment's legacy than would continuing to operate such a lackluster attraction. Think back to when Maelstrom closed a few years ago to make way for Frozen Ever After in the Norway pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. Fans were livid and began to memorialize Maelstrom as if the Haunted Mansion was shutting down simply because Anna and Elsa were moving in. Maelstrom, in reality a pretty average attraction, is now considered a beloved and classic attraction chiefly because it closed. I think the same could happen if Disney decided to retire Figment and close his attraction. With such a move, fans would swiftly forget about the disappointing last couple of decades and only remember Figment and his attraction fondly. If Maelstrom can get a legacy bump upon closing, think about the legacy bump the Imagination pavilion would get.
In Star Wars- Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren wrestles with how to deal with his tortured past, and he concludes (and thus gives us the theme of the entire movie) by stating, "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to." With Figment and Journey Into Imagination, that is exactly what needs to be done. The spark of one of Epcot's most treasured pavilions has been all but extinguished, and we are now left with the choice of what to do with a flame that is no longer burning with pride. In my humble opinion, fans need to let the past die, and Disney needs to kill the Imagination we have grown accustomed to for this to happen. While I know this opinion will not be shared by everyone, I believe the only way for Figment and Journey Into Imagination to be redeemed is to go the path of other classic Epcot attractions such as World of Motion, Horizons, and Universe of Energy. We look back at those attractions with rose-colored glasses, freely looking past their flaws and focusing only on their greatness, and I so want us to do that with Imagination in the years to come. I want Figment to be remembered as a legend, not a punchline. I want that one little spark to burn again in the minds of every Imagination fan. This may sound like a drastic proposal, but desperate times call for desperate measures, don't they?
One bright idea, one right connection, can give our lives a new direction. Now is the time to give Figment's life and legacy a new direction.