Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Feasible EPCOT Improvement #1

Rehab the Imagination Pavilion, and Do It RIGHT This Time

You were expecting Horizons, weren't you? As much as I loved Horizons, the construction of a new 5-story pavilion in Future World is not within the realm of possibility unless a new corporate sponsor sweeps in and absolutely insists on dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on the project. The Imagination pavilion, though, is still intact. But why make an Imagination rehab the most-needed improvement to EPCOT? Because I believe Future World could not exist without it. While the rest of Future World (most of it, anyway) toots humanity's horn for all the cool stuff we've been able to do, the Imagination pavilion reminds us that it would all be impossible without something we didn't invent: our capacity for imagination.

Once upon a time, the Imagination pavilion was a prime Future World destination. A whimsical, expansive ride took up the ground floor of the pavilion, and afterward visitors could go up to the second floor to play in the ImageWorks, which boasted cutting-edge technology for the time. In the Magic Eye theater, there were 3D films like Magic Journeys and Captain EO (which seems ridiculous now, but was a pretty big deal in the '80s). Honey, I Shrunk The Audience debuted there in 1994, and by mid-90s standards it was pretty impressive.

Unfortunately, the last decade has not been kind to the Imagination pavilion. I've written about the whole sad story before, and this Wikipedia article provides a good overview, as well. So, how to fix it? Well, according to this thread in the WDWMagic forums, there are plans for a fourth refurbishment that would reunite Dreamfinder and Figment. The ride-through attraction would allegedly be extended into the space now occupied by the Magic Eye theater, thus lengthening the ride into something closer to its original 11-minute run time. Unfortunately, plans for this much needed rehab of the Imagination pavilion seem to have been put on hold so the money can be put toward the rumored massive Fantasyland refresh at the Magic Kingdom.

I know money is tight these days, but now would be an excellent time for the Imagination pavilion's corporate sponsor to come to the rescue. Yes, I'm talking about Kodak. They're still around, you know! As much I've complained about companies like Exxon and GM corrupting the message of the attractions they've sponsored, there is a positive side to the whole deal: the sponsor provides money for improvements to the pavilion that might not otherwise be made. Look at what Siemens has done for Spaceship Earth: sure, the descent still needs some work, but thanks to Siemens the post-show area is the best it's been since the Earth Station days. The money for the refurb didn't come from Disney, it came from the corporate sponsor. Word is that Siemens is even responsible for getting that horrible wand taken down. (Man, I hated that thing. It looked like a cartoon had vomited all over one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world) I'm not sure how healthy Kodak's finances are, though. After all, their primary product is camera film, which has mostly gone the way of the videotape and the floppy disk. According to their Wikipedia page, Kodak is in the midst of "refocusing" on digital photography products. Sounds to me like corporate doublespeak for "desperately trying to stave off obsolescence".

What I'm saying is that the Imagination pavilion looks so dreary and neglected that one could be forgiven for believing that it has no sponsor, and if Kodak can't step up and supply the needed capital to breathe some life back into the place, then maybe a new sponsor could. Someone like Apple, perhaps. Steve Jobs is on Disney's board, after all. And Apple has always marketed their products as tools that allow people to express their creativity. Can you imagine an ImageWorks full of Apple technology? Of course, that's probably a pipe dream. I really can't imagine Steve Jobs investing in something like that, and I can't imagine what benefit Apple would see from it.

Setting the sponsorship issue to one side, though, what might a refurbished Imagination pavilion look like? Well, if the plans already drawn up by the Imagineers are eventually implemented, it'll mean the end of the Magic Eye theater. But if it means the return of Dreamfinder in a ride that's closer to the spirit of the original, then I'm all for it. Hopefully, the queue area would be redone to dispense with the stodgy, unimaginative Imagination Institute theme. What would take its place? How about a queue area inspired by the whimsical murals that used to adorn the walls of the original queue area? Instead of a simple painting, though, perhaps it could give you the feeling of actually being inside the mural, the way that the Seas new queue area gives visitors the sense of being shrunk down to the size of a clownfish and entering Nemo's underwater world. As far as the ride itself, I know the Imagineers already have concepts prepared; I'm just hoping they actually see the light of day. The real tragedy of all this is that the original ride never needed to fundamentally change. It was a timeless Disney classic, like Peter Pan's Flight or Pirates of the Caribbean. If Disney had simply left it alone except for necessary maintenance and periodic cosmetic upgrades, the ride would be more popular and they wouldn't have wasted all that money on unsuccessful rehabs. No doubt the ideas the Imagineers have will, if they are ever implemented, return the ride to its status as a classic and allow Disney to leave it alone for a while.

That just leaves the ImageWorks. In the old days, the ImageWorks boasted the best technology the early 1980s had to offer. Subsequent rehabs brought it into the 1990s, and that's where it's been ever since. Two things need to happen here. First of all, the ImageWorks needs to be moved back upstairs where it belongs. Second, it needs to move into the 21st century. It needs to be a place where visitors play with creative tools they don't have at home. What about large multitouch screens that allow you to manipulate and distort images using only your hands? Okay, that's my only idea, other than the return of the neon rainbow tunnel that made you feel like you were inside a giant multicolored Slinky. But I think it's clear that with a little TLC the ImageWorks could be the best post-show area in Disney World again.

I fervently hope that the next time I visit EPCOT, the Imagination pavilion will be closed for refurbishment. In the meantime, I think I'll head over to Zazzle and pick up this T-shirt. Or maybe this one. Just to let folks know where I stand.

I hope you enjoyed my Feasible EPCOT Improvements series. Thank you very much for reading. There are still more interesting things to come: I'm working on a post about a revolutionary vehicle that only visitors to World of Motion ever saw, and best of all, I recently acquired a mint-condition copy of the definitive EPCOT text Walt Disney's EPCOT Center: Creating The New World of Tomorrow for just 13 bucks on eBay! My grandfather originally bought the book for me in 1984, but one move and many years later it ended up in my parents garage with some pretty bad water damage. Interestingly, the copy I have now is actually an earlier printing than my first one, so it has more early concept art in it, rather than photographs of completed attractions. Just thumbing through it, it appears to have all kinds of tidbits about things that were planned for EPCOT but never realized, and as I come across those things I'll try to share them here.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Well done! Great series!

    And Apple taking over Imagination would be a nearly perfect fit. Apple has boatloads of cash and could control the message in the post-show pretty easily.

  2. I second that. Great, very interesting, series full of great ideas.

  3. It still just floors me that they could ever think of removing such shows as Journey Into Imagination, World Of Motion, and Horizons. They were supposed to be the E Ticket attractions of their time and many regarded them as such. Upgrades to them would have been the better course to take.

    If they are going to bring back Journey Into Imagination I hope they capture the original better than they had originally -- perhaps make "smarter" ride vehicles as Tony Baxter intended, or even do something radical such as using suspended ride vehicles.

    I'd also love to see improvements to the pavilion so it looks more like the original rendering. It had a more fantastical quality to it.


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