Friday, June 12, 2009

Set Imagination Free

There's a very interesting article in the February 2009 issue of Scientific American entitled "The Serious Need For Play". Basically, it delves into research indicating that imaginative "free play" is crucial for emotional development, and children that don't get enough of it may grow up to be socially maladjusted. This has only become an issue in the last generation or so, as children are spending more time in structured activities like organized sports or music lessons, and less time playing and simply being kids. I couldn't help thinking, as I read the article, that the decline of imaginative play has coincided with the decline of what was perhaps EPCOT's most important pavilion: Journey Into Imagination.

In it's pre-Eisnerized form, Future World was a salute to innovation and achievement in fields like communications, energy, transportation, and agriculture. On the surface, the whimsical Imagination pavilion may have looked like a bad fit, but I believe Future World would have been incomplete without it. After all, without an active imagination, innovation is impossible. Anyway, after all the self-congratulatory isn't-humanity-great-for-inventing-all-this-great-stuff backslapping that the other pavilions indulged in, it's nice to reflect on the fact that we owe it all to something that we didn't invent-our capacity for imagination. Not to be overlooked, of course, was the first 3D film the Imagination pavilion hosted-the positively trippy Magic Journeys. I honestly can't imagine today's creative executives (whose function, curiously enough, seems to be the stifling of creativity) approving something like this today. Much like the ride-through portion of the pavilion, Magic Journeys was a disjointed stream-of-consciousness piece that did an excellent job depicting the imaginative process.

Of course, in 1998 Imagination went down for a rehab, only to reopen as Journey into YOUR Imagination, a thoroughly joyless Honey, I Shrunk The Audience tie-in. Its insulting premise was built around the idea that the audience had no imagination, and required the services of Eric Idle and the Imagination Institute to infuse them with one. Fortunately, this iteration of the ride was universally reviled, and was replaced in 2002 by the slightly less-reviled Journey Into Your Imagination With Figment. Many people who prefer the original ride saw the new version as a condescending attempt to pander to them via gratuitous helpings of Figment, but the blog Passport to Dreams Old and New recently had a different take. I strongly encourage you to read the entire entry here, but the gist of it is that the show is a slyly subversive take on the struggles between "empty suit" creative execs, symbolized by the Dr. Channing character, and real Imagineers, symbolized by Figment. Of course, in the show Dr. Channing starts out asserting that "imagination should be captured and controlled," but eventually comes around to Figment's way of thinking and decides that it should be allowed to run free after all.

While Journey Into Your Imagination With Figment is deeply flawed (no doubt because of the budgetary limitations and executive meddling with which the design team had to contend) its core message, that imagination should not be bottled up, but allowed to run free, is more relevant to our times and vital than ever.

Posting is liable to be a bit infrequent around here for a while. I am, however, planning a trip to Disney World in January, and while I'm there I plan to take plenty of pictures, most of which will end up here, and hopefully I'll be able to take the Undiscovered Future World tour and write up an account of that. Thanks for sticking around!