Figment: Language Arts Through Imagination (found series of educational Disney short films; 1988-1989)

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LanguageArtsThroughImagination.jpg

The title card for the series.

Status: Found

Date found: 20 May '18

Found by: Dragonroboto, John Rudy, and TRANSTAR LEXINGTON

Language Arts Through Imagination is a series of 11 educational short films released between 1988 and 1989 by Disney Educational Media under the Epcot Educational Media label.[1] The series is a live action and animation hybrid that stars Figment, a character from the Epcot attraction Journey Into Imagination.[2] Each episode featured a boy and girl actor interacting with Figment on a variety of topics, often solving a problem using imagination and reading skills.

As part of the Epcot Education Media line, the series was released on VHS tapes to be distributed only for supplemental instruction for schools, costing a premium of up to $350 per tape.[3] This made the series relatively obscure and elusive to find. Only the majority of one episode and a poor film reel of another was publically available until March 2018, when 9 of the 11 known episodes were uncovered from an unlisted playlist from May 2017.[4] The final two episodes were uploaded by another user between April and May 2018.[5] [6]

Background

The title card for Reading Magic with Figment and Peter Pan. This was one of the only circulating images of the series until its uncovering.

The original Journey Into Imagination debuted as an attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot on March 5, 1983.[7] The characters of Figment and Dreamfinder evolved from a concept for the proposed and unproduced land of Disneyland called Discovery Bay, where Dreamfinder was named Professor Marvel and Figment was an unnamed green dragon that was his companion.[8] The original attraction was closed in 1998 to revamp the ride as Journey Into Your Imagination. With Dreamfinder dropped and Figment only appearing in a few cameos, the ride was heavily panned and was retooled a few years later into the current Journey into Imagination with Figment. [7]

In the 1980s, Disney began producing low budget educational series based on their properties.[3] One particular aspect that defined these shorts was its use of American outsourced animation, [9] a practice Disney had not done since the 1938 Silly Symphony short Merbabies. [10] The trend started with the 1981 short Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons, which culminated in the outsourcing of the 1983 animated featurette Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. [10] Despite heavy criticism, Disney was satisfied with the results and expanded its use of outsourced animation. [9]

In 1988, Disney contracted Chicago-based Cioni Artworks to animate a series of educational shorts based on Figment.[11] Animators Ray Cioni and Jon McClenahan were credited as the animation directors. [3] Billy Barty, the voice of Figment for the Epcot attraction, resumed his role for the series. The shorts were directed by various individuals, including Robin Allinson Smalley, Mark Mathis, and Mark Jean. Jamie Simons wrote most of the shorts, while Bill Scollon produced many of them. [10]

Structure

Unlike the previously unproduced series Dreamfinders, Language Arts Through Imagination had very little relation to the Journey Into Imagination ride, with Figment being one of the few aspects retained. Instead, Figment was said to live in a land called Figonia, a live-action set said to be created by Figment’s imagination.[12] In each episode, two kids would be transported to Figonia by Figment, who would often have a problem that would need to be solved. Figment would encourage the use of imagination through various words, which would be evaluated and eventually help solve the problem. Storytelling was another key component that tied in with the learning of words.[12]

Occasionally various Disney characters would guest star in the shorts. For example, Writing Magic with Figment and Alice in Wonderland featured a live action version of Alice.[3] In What’s an Abra Without a Cadabra?, an animated version of Merlin from The Sword in the Stone helped out.[13]

The series made frequent use of stock footage obtained through various Disney films.[12] These films were used to both cover for the lower animation budget the series had and better explain the topic that was being discussed. For example, footage from the movie Fantasia would be used to demonstrate the variation of color or show an example of flying.[12]

Episode Status

The series was distributed on VHS tapes that were given to schools for educational use. This tape contains 5 of the previously lost episodes.

The series was only available on various Disney Educational Media VHS tapes. In particular, many of these tapes were only meant to be sold to schools who would use the tapes as additional tools used by teachers in various lessons. The tapes could either be traded back or bought by an educational institution for a premium price known to reach $350.[10] Because of this, very few tapes of this series are known to exist, making the series relatively obscure and difficult to find.

For an extended period of time, the only episode of the series that was circulating online was Would You Eat A Blue Potato?. The episode was courtesy of Figment’s Imagination, a fansite which shut down in 2012.[14] While the theme song was recorded in its proper 4:3 ratio by some users, the lone circulating recording of the episode itself was in an improper ratio. In addition, the episode was missing its final scene and ending credits.[15]. In 2017, the episode Reading Magic with Figment and Peter Pan was uploaded to YouTube in its entirety. However, the recording is a transfer from a poor quality film reel where much of the dialogue could not be distinguished.[16]

On March 25, 2018, a thread was made on the WDWMagic forums about the series, with a user bringing to light a YouTube playlist that was created by TTJohn12 in May of 2017 containing 9 of the 11 full episodes.[4] [17] The episodes were unlisted until April 2018, making their existence unknown before the thread. According to TTJohn12, the episodes were obtained through loan of two VHS tapes through a local university and the episodes were kept unlisted due to DMCA concerns.[4]

On April 22, 2018, YouTube user dragonroboto uploaded a higher quality recording of Reading Magic with Figment and Peter Pan.[5] After sharing the video to the WaltDisneyWorld subreddit under the name anjack9, the user mentioned that the video came from a VHS tape that also contained Writing Magic with Figment and Alice in Wonderland, the final lost episode of the series.[18] The user uploaded the episode on May 20, which completed the series.[6]


List of Episodes

# Short Title Year Produced Status
1 Would You Eat a Blue Potato? 1988 Found
2 What Can You See by Looking? 1988 Found
3 Do Dragons Dream? 1988 Found
4 How Does It Feel to Be an Elephant? 1988 Found
5 How Does It Feel to Fly? 1988 Found
6 How Does Sound Sound? 1988 Found
7 Reading Magic with Figment and Peter Pan 1989 Found
8 Writing Magic with Figment and Alice in Wonderland 1989 Found
9 What's an Abra Without A Cadabra? 1989 Found
10 Where Does Time Fly? 1989 Found
11 The Case of the Missing Space 1989 Found

Gallery

The theme song of the series.
The episode Would You Eat a Blue Potato? was for several years the only footage of the series available, although it was available only as a incomplete copy.
The Case of the Missing Space features a clay animation by Craig Bartlett, who would later go on to create Hey Arnold!.
Writing Magic With Figment And Alice in Wonderland, the final episode of the series to be found.

References

  1. d23 listing on Do Dragons Dream Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  2. The webpage for the Journey Into Imagination ride Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Mouseplanet article on the series Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 WDWMagic thread on the found episodes Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  5. 5.0 5.1 VHS tape transfer of Reading Magic with Figment and Peter Pan Retrieved 21 May '18
  6. 6.0 6.1 VHS tape transfer of Writing Magic With Figment And Alice in Wonderland Retrieved 21 May '18
  7. 7.0 7.1 Official Disney Blog post on the attraction Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  8. Disney article on the origins of Figment and Dreamfinder Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  9. 9.0 9.1 Demystifying Disney: A History of Disney Feature Animation Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Cartoon Research article on the series Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  11. Resume of Ray Cioni, including mentions of work for the series under Cioni Artworks Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Disney Wiki article on Language Arts Through Imagination Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  13. Wiki article on What's an Abra Without A Cadabra? Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  14. Web Archive link to the former Figment's Imagination fansite Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  15. YouTube link to the only copy of Would You Eat A Blue Potato? circulating for years Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  16. YouTube link to the original found film reel of Reading Magic with Figment and Peter Pan Retrieved 22 Apr '18
  17. The YouTube playlist most of the full series was found on Retrieved 21 Apr '18
  18. Reddit post where user anjack9 mentions that he obtained Writing Magic with Figment and Alice in Wonderland Retrieved 21 May '18