"Two tiny wings
Eyes big and yellow
Horns of a steer, but a lovable fellow
From head to tail, he's royal purple pigment..
and there, voila, you've got a Figment..."
Since my first trip to Disney's Epcot Center in 1984 when I first glanced at His Purple Badness for the first time, I have never quite been able to get over him. Figment, otherwise known as the purple dragon that is the literal embodiment of the 'figment' of your imagination, has captivated generations with his charming laugh, catchy songs, mischievious nature, and adorable features. Figment was the first Disney character not designed by Walt himself. Disney Imagineers thought him up while they were planning Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), the first Disney park designed in a different vein altogether from Disneyland or Magic Kingdom. Initial drawings revealed Figment to be a strange green concoction, but fortunately he was redrawn to look... well, I imagine what the figment of one's imagination must look like – random and surreal. With his orange horns and wings, purple body, pink belly, and yellow t-shirt, Figment was unmistakeably original.
Figment and his side-kick Dreamfinder were the animatronic hosts of the fantastic Journey into Imagination ride (1983-1998), where they traveled through the mystical land of human imagination (from dreams to nightmares and everything in between) all the while collecting ideas and daring us to dream up the impossible.
In one of the biggest blunders in Disney history (yes, those are my words), Imagineers decided to tear down the original ride (and the accompanying ImageWorks) as the ride's track was encountering problems. The ride was completely rebuilt as something altogether different and public reaction to the renovation was excessively negative. Disney employees wore black and sulked outside of the attraction and even a Disney stockholder demanded a CEO's explanation as to why Figment was not prominently featured in the ride. Two years later, the ride underwent another extensive renovation to become Journey into Imagination with Figment, a ride which saw more Figment but continuing public dissatisfaction. If you go to Epcot today, you will notice it is the emptiest ride in the park. Upon a trip to Epcot this year, I expressed to an employee my love of Figment to which he sadly responded “It's not what it used to be.” Given the sad state of the attraction and the empty omnimovers, it's a safe bet that the current attraction's days are numbered.
The original Figment was voiced by brilliant character actor and dwarf Billy Blarty, who sadly passed away and took with him that enthusiastic voice that breathed incomparable life and energy into Figment, and who gave him the greatest laugh I've ever heard. Dave Goelz voices the current Figment, which is but a shadow of its former self. During the 1980s, Figment was to Epcot what Mickey was to Magic Kingdom. Figment merchandise abounded and Epcot took a brave unique stance at keeping other Disney characters separate from the Epcot theme park. In other words, Figment owned. The original ride was comprised of every essential element for a classic Disney attraction: the theme, strong visuals and endearing animatronics, a great song... Having taken away the ride was the Epcot equivalent of Pirates of the Caribbean being removed from Disneyland. (Can you imagine the reaction?!) I'm still trying to fathom how such a thing could have happened. Heaven forbid they just replace the troublesome track instead of rebuilding the entire ride.
Yes, that is Michael Jackson at the original ImageWorks Rainbow Tunnel in the amazing first Journey Into Imagination ride, just in case you needed proof that this thing was that cool...
I imagine (pun intend) that one of the great dilemma's facing Disney Imagineers is guest division: half of the guests are traditionalists and want their favorite nostalgic rides to be kept intact while others expect to see constantly revamped attractions and new rides. However, when something works that well it shouldn't be tampered with much (such as Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion which goes through the occasional small update but overall remains the same).
Figment is my all-time favorite character. His lessons are universal – belief, imagination, and creativity should be boundless and take us to the places in life we want to go. His message is as relevant today as it's always been, only hardly no one can hear it anymore. The modern ride features a largely computer-animated figment, which very much detracts from the magic of Disney animatronics previously in place (sometimes, older is actually better). The theme isn't very strong, the “One Little Spark” song spans a few lines for the audience to sing along with (which they never do), and overall the ride is as bland as last night's meatloaf. The original ImageWorks featured technologies the public had never seen (early versions of virtual reality exhibits and odd technological spectacles) while the current version gives us little to dream about. Figment's pal Dreamfinder is nowhere to be seen and Figment merchandise is generally yawn-worthy and only sold in a few locations at the park. The last time I went to Epcot, I stopped by Guest Relations to ask them when the costumed Figment mascot would be out and about so I could get a birthday photo with him (Hey, I had to!) and the woman looked at me as if I was insane. Apparently, even the Figment-costumed Epcot cast member is no more, either. They didn't even know he had existed recently! My inner child was completely crushed by everything at Journey into Imagination and the Imagination Institute. What a sorry ending for such a fabulous creature.
Poor decision making = poor audience attendance. The public's love and interest in Figment has not dissipated. Upon speaking with fellow Florida residents and Epcot attendees, I find that they fondly remember Figment and bring their children to experience him as well (the current generation got jipped). Disney honchos must know that Figment is not as of yet altogether through as they have released countless Figment pins and yearly release a limited edition Figment statue, while Figment merchandise on eBay continues to escalate in price and desire. Hopefully these signs will point Disney in the obvious direction and allow them to finally give Figment the updates he deserves instead of sending him into retirement. I believe Figment has generations left to entertain while old generations will fall in love with him all over again. Long live Fig.
To learn all about Figment (and why we should save him from extinction), check out an Figment's amazing unofficial page at figmentsimagination.com.