Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sitting my A-level exams. As I’m sure most of you can either remember or imagine, this hasn’t exactly been the least-stressful period of my life so to cope with this, I’ve been watching a lot of videos by the YouTube channel ‘Defunctland’ (Which I highly recommend by the way, if you’re in the mood for binging an exceptionally well put together, incredibly interesting series). One of the videos in the archive of the channel is about the EPCOT ride, ‘Journey into Imagination’ and its 3 iterations, with the latter 2 being not as well liked as the first, to say the least. This video was a collaboration with another channel, ‘Yesterworld’, and in the comment section for the video on the latter channel, I found a comment that I thought posed some very interesting questions.
The comment is pictured below. Now, this may just be my interpretation of the comment based off of my own personal biases but my take away from this comment was that the problem that the writer had with the rethemes of the ride was that they were more based on science than imagination. This isn’t something that I’m going to fault the writer for either – admittedly, I haven’t been on either the original (Which closed before I was born) or either of the rethemes but from POVs I’ve watched on YouTube, I can see why people have issues with them – they are BAD. However, I will attempt to argue in this piece that basing rides off of science is not necessarily an immediate reason to write them off – they should not all be tarred with the same brush as a result of a couple of bad rethemes. And I admit, I am biased.
I appreciate that this isn’t really based on Disneyland Paris at all. However, as I alluded to previously the question of the kind of story we want attractions to be telling is relevant to any theme park.
The first point I feel is necessary to make is that the first and third versions of ‘Journey into Imagination’ take very different stances on the role and value of science which lead to science being presented in very different ways. While the original version takes the view that science and imagination go hand in hand, the third version of the ride seems to show that science and imagination are polar opposites of each other, that they can’t coexist, that science is a destructive subject out to destroy the products of imagination. It’s a hard-nosed subject with no room for creativity. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Science is all about finding new ideas and ways of doing things – it just happens that the ideas are our best guesses at the nature of reality. Just because a story is true should not make it less suitable for the story of an attraction. And doesn’t it make it better to know that the things that science finds are real? Science isn’t boring – it isn’t weird eye tests and random stuff like that which makes up the bulk of the third retheme of the ride, it’s the accumulation of the products of the creativity of the scientists working on furthering our understanding of pretty much everything. It’s beautiful in its own special way, a way that is not properly exploited by the third version of ‘Journey into Imagination’, or other rides that present science to the public.
It seems to me that the presentation of science given by many rides, including the second and third iterations of ‘Journey into Imagination’ is that it is this boring thing summed up by repeating the word ‘experiment’ an ungodly number of times and dressing in white coats. This is unlikely to catch the guest’s attention or get them invested in the story the ride is trying to convey. Rather than engaging with the pleasure of finding things out through science, it is kept distant from them, preventing them from developing any kind of interest in science as a result. This, I believe, is a result of two factors. Firstly, it is presumed that people aren’t going to be interested in science so it is either presented in a really odd way or is made fun of, in the manner of the third version of ‘Journey into Imagination’. I think this is doing science a disservice. Science is interesting. It’s also such a broad topic that you’re likely to find something that interests you, no matter how small. Take the commonly shared fact that we are all made of stardust which even people who aren’t super nerdy about science find interesting. Science isn’t just for nerds wearing goggles with no social lives, it’s for everyone. However, this is not a stance often put across which is a real shame. The second factor is that it is assumed that if you can’t have any actual science in a ride then there’s no point talking about science at all. This doesn’t make any sense to me. I understand why you wouldn’t necessarily want to include loads of actual science as it would just lead to a new version of the Tomorrowland problem (The idea that tomorrow always comes so whatever you put in will always be outdated) – science is constantly advancing so you would have to update a lot which would be not only time-consuming but expensive. Also, figuring out which age group to pitch to could become an issue; you want children to understand it but you also don’t want to be patronising to the adults. This does not excuse not talking about science in the same way as imagination – the joy of science is something that people often don’t find out about, it is drilled out of us as teenagers through the curriculum which frankly, doesn’t contain the most interesting concepts. Theme park attractions could be a great way to reintroduce people to it. The science could be entirely made up – that could even be an asset storytelling-wise in terms of helping people to become immersed in a world that feels unlike their own – the important thing, in my opinion, is to show science as a joyous subject, something which needs to be done more. In a conversation I had with one of the science teachers at my school a few years ago, he said that for most people, their way into science is either a teacher or science fiction, suggesting that realistic science isn’t necessarily what is required to get people interested.
The stance that I take is that science and imagination are essentially the same thing although I doubt that this is the stance that will be taken in future attractions – I’m pretty sure that the ‘Frozen’ attractions coming to Disneyland Paris in the WDS expansion won’t be about the joy of hydrogen bonding, partly because it will cause A level chemistry students to start ticking nervously. Despite the fact that the book ‘The Physics of the Impossible’ by Michio Kaku does go into how some of the things from ‘Star Wars’ could possibly be done in real life, that would require you having to point out that it’s fictional and that isn’t really how the imagineers roll (However, as discussed earlier, it could be a way of introducing the joy of science to someone, be the science made up or not). In short, unless there is some future, very popular franchise that is VERY science based where you could properly go into things, or designing non-IP rides becomes more of a priority for the parks, I wouldn’t put money on seeing science take a major role in a future attraction which is a real shame.
However, I believe that, particularly given the current climate around science paired with its current and future importance, the joy of science should form an important part of the story in attractions. It is an emotion that may permeate into people’s everyday lives, giving them a greater appreciation for the world around them. I agree with the aforementioned commenter that imagination is important to society. It’s just that I believe that science is the most powerful manifestation of imagination and it should be shown that way in theme parks that after all, are all about the power of it.
Brown, T. (2002). Genomes. 2nd edn. Oxford: Wiley-Liss. [Online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21134/ (Accessed: 25 June 2018).
Defunctland (2018) Defunctland: the History of Journey into Imagination. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPeea5khpx4 (Accessed: 25 June 2018).
iTheme Park (2013) Epcot Journey into Imagination with Figment (Full Ride) POV Walt Disney World HD. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8aCC6hMc14 (Accessed: 25 June 2018).
James, T. (2018) Elemental: How the Periodic Table Can Now Explain (Nearly) Everything. 0th edn. London: Robinson.
Juice Pod (2010) The First Figment – Disney Epcot Imagination. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prhyCRuHRVI (Accessed: 25 June 2018).
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Screamscape (2011) Epcot- Journey into Your Imagination. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUaTu13Yv6U (Accessed: 25 June 2018).
Yesterworld Entertainment (2018) Yesterworld: The Troubled History of Journey into YOUR Imagination – Yesterworld Attractions. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ92iTDfWr4 (Accessed: 25 June 2018).