Twenty years ago, "Flubber" bounded onto the big-screen. A lavish remake of Walt Disney's original "The Absent-Minded Professor" (released in 1961 and colorized in 1986), it starred Robin Williams as Philip Brainard, a loopy scientist who creates a magical new compound. (One of the new winkles introduced in John Hughes' script is that the titular substance is actually self-aware and has personality, in addition to making cars fly and basketball players bounce.)
While the film is nothing more than an amiable diversion (with a great score by Danny Elfman), it has had surprising life in the Disney Parks. In fact, you've probably never realized that you have been walking past "Flubber" references for years now.
To explain: By the mid-1990's, Michael Jackson was falling out of favor with the Walt Disney Company. The two had struck an unlikely alliance years earlier, which produced Captain EO, a Francis Ford Coppola-directed 3D experience that dazzled park goers around the world. But under a sea of child abuse allegations and dwindling albums sales, it was time for a change.
There needed to be a new 3D attraction at the parks, one without all the bad press that the King of Pop now conjured. So, on November 21, 1994, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience! debuted at Epcot, replacing Captain EO. Less than four years later, in the same complex (The Imagination Pavilion), Journey Into Your Imagination -- a revamped version of the breakthrough Journey Into Imagination attraction from 1983 --opened. The fact that they were housed in the same building meant that they shared a storyline, in this case a kind of tech demo open house day at the fictional Imagination Institute.
As you walk through the queue for the new Imagination attraction, you pass a photo of Robin Williams' "Flubber" character, as well as one of the original prop robots for his assistant Weebo. The insinuation is that Williams' Brainard and Wayne Szalinski (played by Rick Moranis from the two theatrical "Honey, I ..." movies) were contemporaries and worked together in the Institute. Instantly "Flubber," like the malleable material, was absorbed into Disney Parks storytelling. And what's more, the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience attraction would travel the world, opening in Tokyo Disneyland (where it was charmingly renamed MicroAdventure!) in 1997, in Disneyland in 1998, and in Disneyland Paris in 1999.
The 23-minute attraction -- which cannily combined 3D film techniques with in-theater effects (those mice!) -- was now part of a shared, science-y ecosystem with "Flubber," and it translated nicely. And when that attraction closed (around the world in 2010, to make way for a posthumous Captain EO revival), there was still some "Flubber" back in the Imagination Pavilion at Epcot.
Despite some adjustments to the main Imagination attraction, those "Flubber" callbacks are still present, which, for a time at least, linked a passable Disney remake to an attraction beloved by millions of Disney Parks guests around the world. Next time you're down in Florida, maybe make your way over to the Imagination Pavilion and keep an eye out for all of those references. There are even some fun ones in the ride -- not only to "Flubber," but some other Disney classics (my favorite is the shout out to "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," something most guests definitely won't pick up on).
It's sort of nice that, since Williams' passing, he's still remembered for one of his more iconic characters (at least for a certain audience). He might not have been a scientist in real life, but his inquisitive nature, endless creativity, and ability to conjure something from nothing, were traits he shared with the most advanced minds in scientific fields.