When Epcot Center theme park opened in Florida, the Journey to Imagination pavilion featured two characters who captured the heart of audiences: Dreamfinder, a bearded character who was a combination of Santa Claus and the Wizard of Oz, and his little purple dragon companion, Figment who was a literal representation of the famous “figment of the imagination”.
imaging engineer tony baxter, who helped create the characters, recalled that “[dreamfinder] was a kind of santa claus who is wise and old and knows all the great things, a great thinker. but we needed a kid character who had a split-second attention span and was a little crazy.”
At the time, an offshoot of Disney Educational Media was created entitled Epcot Educational Media. This department produced everything from comic books like “Mickey and Goofy Explore the Universe of Energy” (1985), to books, filmstrips and videos that were meant primarily as supplements to be used in schools.
one of epcot’s educational media projects was a series of eleven fifteen-minute videos featuring animated fiction interacting with real children on a variety of imaginative topics.
figment supposedly lived in the world of “figonia” and each episode would feature a boy and a girl who were different actors in each episode and from a variety of ethnicities whom figment would help solve a problem. there was an episode where alice needed help getting back to wonderland so only one child was involved in helping write a story that would allow her to do so and another with peter pan who couldn’t read so only was included to a girl to help him find his way back to neverland.
The live action was directed by Robin Allison Smalley, who served as a producer on the series along with Bill Scollon, Peter Sauers and Sallie Zemlin-Kisor. some of the writing was done by jamie simons.
while there was newly created animation, there were often clips of classic disney animation as well. for example, would you eat a blue potato? On how we react to colors, there are brief segments from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1940), Pecos Bill (1948), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Jungle Book (1967), and The Silly Funny Bunnies Symphony (1934) to help. to illustrate the discussion of colors (eg, the yellow of a panther’s eyes, the red flames in a yard, or the red of slue foot sue’s hair).
In the interests of being “cost effective” the Disney Company in the 1980s often outsourced animation for its educational films to smaller independent studios who could produce the work faster and cheaper than Disney Feature Animation who had a tremendous amount of overhead cost to cover.
For example, in 1981, Reinert Productions headed by animator Rick Reinert in North Hollywood was responsible for producing and animating the educational film Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons for Walt Disney Educational Media.
The Disney Company was so impressed with his work that the studio was given the task of producing and animating the next theatrical Winnie the Pooh animated feature film, Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore (1983). It was the first time in nearly forty years that Disney had outsourced one of its theatrical cartoons. the first time was in 1938, when he produced and animated merbabies (1938) for the silly symphony shorts.
New animation for the fictional films was credited to small Chicago animation studio, cioni, artworks with ray cioni and jon mcclenahan as directors.
In October 1987, animator Jon McClenahan had just returned to his hometown of Chicago after a stint working at Hanna-Barbera’s Australian studio on several Saturday morning animated shows, including Kwicky Koala, Private olive oyl and the animated show mork and mindy. The studio had just closed and Mcclenahan started looking for work.
“I went to Cioni Artworks,” said McClenahan in an interview with Playtpus Comix. “Ray Cioni had a staff of three (including himself) and some two-bit jobs for Golden Books going on. He met with me and after finding out what I had done, he hired me.
“i spent a year at cioni artworks, and then ray had some financial problems, and at that time the whole animation industry in chicago seemed pretty suspect to me, so i thought i should try opening my own studio”. mcclenahan opened startoons which did some episodes of tiny toons and animaniacs.
Interestingly, the product model sheets for the series were made on paper that Mcclenahan had left with the Hanna-Barbera Australia studio marks. The Disney Company opened its own animation studio in Sydney, Australia in 1988 in the same H-B building and hired many of the same animators. The studio worked on animated television series such as Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, and Aladdin, among other projects, before closing in 2006.
many of the fictional episodes began with a minute and a half animated segment in which the character ran around various places while singing a catchy, upbeat tune titled “i’m figment” by phil baron and jamie simons. it was also repeated at the end of the episode. here’s a clip of that animation:
For the series, diminutive actor Billy Barty provided the fictional voice just as he did on the Walt Disney World attraction.
here is the complete list of fictional films produced for epcot educational media. I’m guessing the disney company has a complete collection, but I haven’t been able to verify that claim. I know there is a complete set in 16mm in a private collection:
• Would you eat a blue potato? (September 1988 – 15 min)
• what can you see when you look? (September 1988 – 15 minutes)
• DO DRAGONS DREAM? (September 1988 – 15 min)
• How does it feel to be an elephant? (September 1988 – 15 minutes)
• What does it feel like to fly? (September 1988 – 14 minutes)
• how does the sound sound? (September 1988 – 14 minutes)
• magical reading with figment and peter pan (August 1989 – 15 min)
• writing magic with figment and alice in wonderland (Aug 1989 – 15 min)
• What is an abra without a cadabra? (September 1989 – 15 minutes)
• Where does time fly? (September 1989 – 17 minutes)
• Case of the Missing Space (September 1989 – 16 min)
(I would like to thank the friends of figment for their help in locating material for this article).