Walt Disney once said that Disneyland would never be completed. The idea was that the park would continue to grow and evolve, as new ideas and new technologies created new attractions which replaced old ones. That feeling has continued through every one of the Disney Parks since then. Professional inventor Lanny Smoot has worked for Walt Disney Imagineering for over 25 years, so he’s been the one who has created a lot of that technology, and has also seen it replaced. Closed Disney World attractions are part of the cycle that creates new Disney World attractions, after all.
I had the opportunity to speak with Lanny Smoot recently, to discuss his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, an honor that he now shares with Walt Disney himself. I asked him if there were any attractions he helped develop that he misses seeing in the park because they’ve since been replaced. He brought up an attraction from Epcot’s old Innoventions area that I had nearly forgotten about called Where’s the Fire?, with Smoot saying…
Unfortunately, Where's the Fire? [It] had a long run at Disney World, it's not there now. And it made way for other things, one of which, I can't talk about it yet, but it might be related to me also. So, you know, time passes. The Walt Disney Company is constantly refreshing even the classics… So things change, time marches on, but we constantly look for new technologies to support the next generation of creative ideas.
The Innoventions East and Innoventions West buildings in Epcot’s Future World held a variety of different attractions over the decades, usually smaller interactive exhibits showing off new technologies, often from corporate sponsors that existed alongside concepts showing where technology might be going in the future. Where’s the Fire? existed for a decade, from 2004 to 2014, and allowed families to examine a home for potential fire hazards through a device Smoot created. It meant so much to him that he chose it, out of his 106 existing patents, to be the one linked to his Hall of Fame induction. He explained…
The patent of record that I chose from the 106, I had to choose one for the US Patent and Trademark Office and the NIHF induction, is Where's the Fire? It is an attraction that allows families to compete to look through walls with a magical flashlight that provides X-ray vision. Now I provided the flashlight with X-ray vision and wasn't sure exactly what we would do with it. And the idea for the Where's the Fire? was a joint thing here at Imagineering and we said ‘Oh my god. That’s its use. That's the magical use.’
The announcement from Disney of Lanny Smoot’s Hall of Fame induction came with a video showing off another piece of new technology, the HoloTile Floor, which, like the X-ray flashlight, is something that Smoot developed without any specific goal in mind. Smoot told me that sometimes he’ll be tasked with solving a specific problem, but he is often given more general concepts that Imagineering thinks would be useful, even if they don’t have an actual plan for it, like the flashlight device he developed that ended up working out for an attraction that came later.
As Lanny Smoot said, Where’s the Fire? has been gone for a long time. Following Epcot’s massive multi-year remodel, which isn’t even entirely done yet, the entire Innoventions buildings are now a thing of the past. The recently-opened Moana: Journey of Water attraction currently sits where the old Innoventions West building and Where's the Fire? was located
Smoot teased us with something that he worked on that may be on its way to Epcot. Such is the way of Disney Parks; there’s always something new right around the corner.