1988 was frankly not the greatest year in the history of Disney. Oh, Oliver and Company isn’t bad, but I’ve covered it before. And of course Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a certified classic, one of Disney’s greats. However, I figured, as I recall, that any number of you would like the opportunity to write about it. And beyond that, there’s . . . some stuff for The Disney Channel that no one remembers? Return to Snowy River? Totally Minnie? The Brave Little Toaster was released by Disney that year, but is it actually a Disney movie any more than the Ghibli releases are?
So what we are left with is the all-but-forgotten series of shorts called, collectively, Language Arts Through Imagination, starring Figment the Dragon. This is one of a number of educational shorts produced by Disney that were, frankly, kind of cash-grabs. As in, these shorts were shockingly expensive to schools, especially given their mediocre quality. One fifteen-minute video was $350, which works out to nearly $900 today. The videos were Figment teaching a series of live-action kids (one of whom looks slightly like Jake Gyllenhaal but few of whom are credited even in the short) about some technique in reading, writing, or storytelling.
Are they the best way to teach kids the assorted concepts? Oh, dear Lord, no. Even within the framework we’ve got here, I could teach rhyming and homophones and things better than having a badly dubbed stock clip of Merlin failing at casting a spell to get Possibly Jake Gyllenhaal home for dinner. They aren’t making the most out of their budget and their access to the Disney archives. There are some about the power of imagination that could be done considerably better, if you have all of the Vault to work with.
I’d argue that Figment isn’t even the best choice for a character to teach children, though I suppose Ichabod Crane, Disney’s canonical teacher, has some of his own issues as far as education, and not just because he’d be operating on an eighteenth century teaching model. If they were purely teaching about imagination, yes, Figment’s your choice. But I’m not sure he’s the best choice to teach emotions or synonyms or similar.
Maybe that’s why they’ve basically vanished from the Disney canon at this point. It’s possible to find them on YouTube, though they’re somewhat hidden. Likely that’s to avoid the copyright claim. But they have no Wikipedia page, and while there’s IMDb pages for each individual short, they’re incomplete. To find any information at all, you have to go wandering through obscure fan pages; there’s no official Disney page for them, either. Honestly those old “you will know it’s time to turn the page” books were probably better at teaching me reading skills than these were, but I doubt that’s why these shorts have vanished so completely.