While the changes to the Journey Into Imagination ride have had their share of controversy, the changes allowed Imagineers to sneak in some fun references to some of the more inventive characters from Disney’s live action films. In fact, with the queue themed to match the Imagination Institute introduced in the Magic Eye Theater year earlier, many of these nods are given before ever boarding the ride. Today, we continue our Week of Imagination!, and discuss some of the Disney innovators referenced in the Imagination! Pavilion.
Inventors of the Imagination Institute!
Once you walk into the queue for Journey Into Imagination, you’re surrounded by the colorful styling of the Imagination Institute. There are a few items in cases near the entrance but once you’re past the reception desk, the focus becomes about Dr. Nigel Channing and his fellow scientists. We’ll start with the gentleman featured in the giant portraits and move on to those a bit more hidden.
Professor Wayne Szalinski – The star of the 90’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids trilogy, portrayed by Rick Moranis, was made easily recognizable because he was one of the stars of the pavilion when the ride had a makeover. The Magic Eye Theater’s Honey, I Shrunk The Audience 4-D film introduced the Imagination Institute back in 1994 and so it made absolute sense to honor Professor Szalinski with a grand portrait as well as an office door where one can spy the silhouette his famous shrinking gun.
Professor Phillip Brainard – The next giant portrait comes from the 90s as well but also has a bit more Disney history. This version of Professor Brainard is from the 1997 film Flubber and was portrayed by the late Robin Williams. As you walk through the queue, his office door may become more noticeable because it’s playing mambo music and glowing green, a reference to the film. But the film was actually a remake of the 1961 film The Absent-Minded Professor where a Professor Ned Brainard was portrayed by Fred MacMurray. Though this version of Brainard is not referenced in the Imagination! Pavilion it is worth noting for two reasons, first being that MacMurray’s work for Disney would earn him the distinction of becoming the first Disney Legend in 1987, secondly the film introduced the Medfield College setting used for many of Disney’s sci-fi comedies of the 60s and 70s and brought back briefly for the 1997 Flubber.
Merlin Jones – This one might be the easiest to miss! The only reference to this character is a loud speaker announcement mentioning his name. This is a reference to Disney Legend Tommy Kirk’s character from the 1964 film The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and its 1965 sequel The Monkey’s Uncle. Merlin was an inventive college student whose strange inventions, such as a mind-reading helmet, lead him into a series of comedic situations. These films also feature another Disney Legend, Annette Funicello.
Dean Eugene Higgins – There is only a door to Dean Higgins office in the ride queue featuring a spinning office in the window. This character, portrayed by Joe Flynn in the Dexter Reilly trilogy, was the dean of the fictional Medfield College that was introduced by The Absent-Minded Professor and its 1963 sequel Son Of Flubber (which featured Joe Flynn in a different, minor role). But the character would not appear until the movies starring our next character.
Dexter Reilly – Though Dean Higgins gets the first reference, Dexter gets one of the most subtle ones. Portrayed by Disney Legend Kurt Russell, was introduced to us in the 1969 The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. The reference to this film and Dexter is actually inside the ride itself as you pass from the Sound Lab to the Sight Lab. There is a room with a bank of computers where you can spy a Medfield jacket hung up. Outside of the room is a sign reading “No Tennis Shoes Allowed” and there are a spotlighted pair of tennis shoes sitting outside.
Dean Finder – Okay, this is not a reference to a movie. But while you’re moving through the ride, you’ll spot a door that has Dean Finder written on it. This is a very small homage to the old host of the ride, the Dreamfinder.
BONUS – If you exit the Journey Into Imagination ride and go up to the Magic Eye Theater you can enjoy a 4-D experience in the Disney/Pixar Film Festival. Though not really a hidden reference, one of the shorts is the 2013 Mickey Mouse short Get A Horse! This film actually features the original Disney innovator, Walt Disney, voicing Mickey Mouse for the first time since 1947 thanks to archival recordings.
I hope you enjoy finding all these references on your next visit and that maybe they bring a little extra enjoyment to this pavilion. Let us know if you’ve discovered any other references! And stick with us for Monday as we explore the pavilion in more depth as part of our Week of Imagination!