Who is Disney's Harrison Hightower?
Written by Robert Niles
In just a couple weeks, we'll be getting our first look at the completed changes underway at Disney California Adventure. Disney's poured $1 billion into the changes and additions at the Disneyland Resort's second gate, and the glimpses we've seen so far have been dazzling.Tweet
But in a few years, when Buena Vista Street and Cars Land have grown familiar and Disney's looking for something else to do to add a little more spark to DCA, I hope that they'll think about giving Harrison Hightower a call.
Who is Harrison Hightower?
Harrison Hightower, in a stained glass tribute to himself
World traveller. Real estate developer. Collector of rare antiques and antiquities. Billionaire. Celebrity.
And, oh yeah, completely fictional.
Harrison Hightower is the protagonist in Tokyo DisneySea's version of Tower of Terror. Without a Twilight Zone overlay for the ride in Japan, Disney's Imagineers concocted Mr. Hightower (get it?), the wealthy, vain, and egomaniacal (not necessarily in that order) developer who built the Hotel Hightower at the corner of Broadway and Park Avenue in New York. (Look at a map of Manhattan for the joke.)
And, I hope, one day he will become the proprietor of Disney California Adventure's Tower of Terror, as well.
Why? Because California Adventure's Tower of Terror, while great fun, isn't as good an attraction as the original in Florida, which Theme Park Insider readers consistently rate among the very best in the world for its wild ride of random drops and special effects. If Disney isn't about to spend tens of millions of dollars to improve the DCA ToT's ride to that level, it could, with much less expense, improve its story.
I love The Twilight Zone. The best episodes of Rod Serling's anthology series from the 1960s brilliantly illustrated irony in the human existence, often using the supernatural to place in sharp relief our very natural, human flaws. No one believes the crazy man on the airplane, even though he turns out to be the only one who's right. A selfish man wishes away all of mankind so he can read in peace, only to be left with no one to repair his eyeglasses after a holocaust. Invaders hold back, allowing the residents of Maple Street turn on each other out of fear and eventually do themselves in.
Disney did amazing work to craft a video introduction for the Florida and California Tower of Terror attractions. Smart video editing allows Serling himself (long dead at the time of the ride's development) to set up the story, which involves a lightning strike sending visitors at the Hollywood Tower Hotel into the Twilight Zone.
But something's missing: the irony. Why are these nameless guests destined for oblivion? What did they do to deserve or enable what ought to be a deliciously ironic punishment? Heck, who are these people, anyway? We never get to meet any of them. Without any emotional stakes, we're left with the supernatural gimmickry of the Twilight Zone, without the human insight that made the series so special.
In Tokyo, we instead get the story of one Harrison Hightower, a pompous man who's returned to America with his greatest prize, the Shiriki Utundu idol from Africa.
Newspaper account of Harrison Hightower's fateful journey, on display in the attraction queue.
To the natives, Shiriki Utundu is no mere idol. He is their god - an angry god, ready to curse whomever takes him from his people. Hightower, being the arrogant man he is, will have no such silliness, and he invites the press to a party where he will show off his new prize.
But on "that fateful night," Shiriki Utundu has his revenge. In an amazing pre-show, we learn Harrison Hightower's fate, then are ushered into the hotel's elevators to see the outcome for ourselves. As we ascend, we see Shiriki Utundu deliver Harrison Hightower to his fate before turning to face us, to ensure that we get the message: Don't mess with Shiriki Utundu.
Harrison Hightower paid for his sins of arrogance, excess, and hubris. The prize he thought would validate him became his undoing. The ironic punishment is served.
Rod Serling would approve.
So, perhaps, we've found our irony, after all: Disney best expresses the spirit of The Twilight Zone in the one Tower of Terror that never mentions its name.
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