While certainly not the most advanced audio-animatronic in all of Walt Disney World, Figment is clearly one of the most beloved, and that is why he is the 2017 WDW Radio Magic Madness Champion. From his days aboard the Dreamcatcher with Dreamfinder to his current mischief making in the Imagination Institute, Figment is perhaps more revered and defended today than ever before. While there are several audio-animatronics depicting his character and likeness, the same playful spark is seen in them all. Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about the playful dragon.
While EPCOT Center was being developed and expanded, Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter and his team were given the task of creating the Imagination pavilion and what would become Journey Into Imagination. Author, historian, and friend of WDW Radio, Jim Korkis reports that Mr. Baxter was inspired while watching an episode of Magnum P.I. It was then that he decided that the attraction needed a creature that would embody the idea of a figment of the imagination.
“I was watching Magnum P.I. on T.V. and he was in the garden and the butler Higgens had all these plants and they were all uprooted. It was a mess. Magnum had been hiding a goat out there and it had eaten the plants. Higgens said, ‘Magnum! Magnum! Come out here! Look at this! Something has been eating all the plants in the garden,’ And Magnum says, ‘Oh, it’s just a figment of your imagination.’ And Higgens said, ‘Figments don’t eat grass!'”
In development, it was quickly decided that Figment would have a dragon-like appearance. As such, the natural inclination was to make him green, so how did Figment come to have a “royal purple pigment”? Kodak had signed on to sponsor the pavilion, and at the time, one of its greatest competitors was Fujifilm whose logo design was and is dominated by bright green. Kodak would not stand for such subconscious allusions to its rival, so it was decided that Figment would be purple instead.
Clothes Make the Dragon
Not only did Kodak deter imagineers from a green dragon, they were given a say in Figment’s attire. The little fellow’s iconic golden yellow and red sweater was made to match the colors of Kodak’s well-known logo.
Over the years, the Figment audio-animatronic has been given voice by two individuals. First, was Billy Barty who played Mickey Rooney’s little brother in a series of short comedies. At 3’9″ tall, Billy is also know for founding the organization Little People of America in 1957. Billy passed away in 2000, so when Journey Into Imagination underwent refurbishment and needed additional dialogue recorded for Figment, Imagineers had to find a replacement. Mr. Barty was followed by David Goelz who is best known for his puppeteer work with Jim Henson studios on the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Muppets Tonight, Fraggle Rock and most recently, The Muppets on ABC.
With Imagination, You Can Be Anything
Audio-animatronic Figment has certainly imagined himself in a number of roles. He has donned many costumes including his classic yellow sweater/jacket/shirt, pajamas, an artist smock, mountain climbing gear, a flying ace scarf and helmet, an astronaut’s space suit, and even bubbles in the bathtub.
The audio-animatronic character of Figment proved to be quite popular with guests, and soon Disney was utilizing him in other areas such as in walk-around/puppet form with Dreamfinder, on merchandise, and in print media. However, one such product remains unknown to most Epcot guests. In the early days of EPCOT Center, there was a location known as the EPCOT Outreach Library where guests could pick up literature and view films offering additional information on the technology of the park and the topics of the pavilions such as energy, motion, the land, the seas and more. In conjunction with this program there were materials available to be used in classrooms throughout the country. According to Jim Korkis, short films produced by EPCOT Education Media could be purchased by schools for student viewing. Produced by this offshoot was an eleven episode series staring an animated Figment. In each entry, the loveable dragon was joined by live-action children and sometimes other animated Disney characters like Peter Pan or Alice. A few episodes, along with the colorful theme song, still survive on YouTube.
The Dark Years
In 1999, the Journey Into Imagination pavilion re-opened as the Imagination! pavilion following a refurbishment that would drastically alter the beloved attraction. Renamed Journey Into Your Imagination, all Dreamfinder audio-animatronics were removed and Figment was only briefly represented in one scene. Replaced with video of Dr. Nigel Channing, played by Eric Idle, guests were given a tour of the Imagination Institute which featured in the newly-opened, Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Extreme guest dissatisfaction led to another refurbishment, and in 2002, Figment was back with a more prominent role throughout the attraction.
Just the Beginning
Figment and Dreamfinder were the first characters created for Epcot, but they were not intended to be the last. Jim Korkis shares that the September 28, 1981, issue of the Miami Herald reported the following, “With the opening of EPCOT Center next fall, Disney officials hope to launch an entirely new generation of lovable, laughable characters. To that end, they have banned Mickey Mouse from the elaborate new theme park and declared it the domain of new characters.” It continues, “Dozens of other characters also will be born on the stages of EPCOT Center, and artists are now striving to develop individual personalities for every one of them.” Guests can only begin to imagine what other iconic characters would have been developed if Walt Disney Company CEO, Michael Eisner had not entered EPCOT Center and asked why Mickey Mouse could not be found.
An Original Animatronic
Guests looking for an original Figment audio-animatronic need look no further than Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There they will find a display with Figment standing alongside a model of the Dreamcatcher, Dreamfinder’s steampunk style airship.
(Characters property of Disney. Logo property of WDW Radio. Figment photo property of Kendall Foreman.)