Directed by: Randy Moore.
Written by: Randy Moore.
Starring: Roy Abramsohn (Jim), Elena Schuber (Emily), Katelynn Rodriguez (Sara), Jack Dalton (Elliot), Danielle Safady (Sophie), Annet Mahendru (Isabelle), Lee Armstrong (Man on Scooter), Alison Lees-Taylor (Other Woman), Stass Klassen (Scientist).
I’ve never been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, but I understand the urge to look for the dark side of the so-called Happiest Place on Earth. Disney works very hard to keep a squeaky clean image – the commercials for their theme parks promise nothing but non-stop family fun – which is what they want you to associate everything Disney with. They want to be controversy free – and have no problem suing any and everyone who does something they don’t like. The most remarkable thing about Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow then is that it exists at all – and you don’t have to watch some illegal, bootleg copy to get to see the movie itself. Moore and his cast snuck cameras into both Disneyland and Disneyworld over the course of several months, and filmed their movie right in the middle of the park. The movie is specifically about the darkness lurking behind the façade of the happiest place on earth – with sexual undercurrents, insanity, violence and crazed scientists under Epcot center. Moore has tapped into that darkness in Disney that the company works very hard to convince you aren’t there at all. When the film premiered at Sundance, everyone assumed it would never be released – although according to legal experts, Disney didn’t have much of a case, people assumed they would tie the movie in litigation so long that by the time they lost, no one would care anymore. Surprisingly though, Disney did the right thing – and simply ignored the movie. This is a tiny movie, that won’t be viewed by all that many people. Why look like a corporate bully when few will even see the film in the first place?
The film opens with Jim (Roy Abramsohn) getting a phone call telling him he is being let go from his job. This couldn’t come at a worst time, since he’s about to go spend the final day of his family vacation at Disneyland. Once he gets to the park, it doesn’t take him long to start to lose it – fueled by alcohol, he starts having bizarre fantasies – revolving around two, young French girls, who he follows behind like a creepy stalker, with his young son in tow. On the It’s a Small World ride, the faces of the children become distorted and surreal. He has ugly encounters with other park guests. His wife won’t stop bitching at him – his son won’t stop whining about Buzz Lightyear, and he will eventually end up the subject of bizarre experiments at Epcot center.
It must be said that the idea behind Escape from Tomorrow is better than the execution. After establishing Disneyland as a dark place, full of secrets and a corporate conspiracy or two, and establishing Jim as a man coming apart at the seams, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s content to come up with bizarre imagery, distorting the vision of Disney as the happiest place on earth, and have Abramsohn rage at anything and everything around him. It would have helped a little if any of the other characters were developed in the slightest – Jim’s wife is portrayed pretty much as a harpy – and his son as snot nosed whiner. By comparison, his daughter comes across the best – a sweet faced little girl – until the inevitable scene where she wants something her parents don’t want to buy her, and she devolves into a temper tantrum.
Yet, it also must be said that while the movie is too long – it could have made a brilliant 30 minute short for instance – it is also effective much of the time. I may have never been to Disneyland, but as the father of a two-year old, I do know just how painful it can be to keep a fake smile plastered on your face as you’re stuck watching something insultingly simplistic, or suffering through live shows aimed at children (the Thomas the Tank Engine live show was the longest 30 minutes of my life – I can only imagine how much alcohol the poor girl who had to sing the thing every day must have to drink). Escape from Tomorrow taps into that futile, impotent rage that all parents go through at one point or another. Most of the time, I suffer gladly because my daughter loves the Bubble Guppies so much – but once in a while…
It also taps into our fascination with Disney, and its dark side. Do a quick search on the internet, and you’ll find all sorts of evil conspiracies involving Uncle Walt, Disneyland and everything else associated with Disney. This is a massive corporation, built to make money, which also tries to present itself as totally family friendly and innocent. Of course, they’re bringing it on themselves in some ways.
You have to give Randy Moore credit. I don’t necessarily think Escape from Tomorrow is a very good movie – it’s trying hard to be David Lynch Goes to Disneyland, and cannot pull it off. Isolated moments work far better than the movie as a whole. But he’s made something interesting here – a film that everyone is talking about, even if few people will actually end up watching it. In that way it’s brilliant – how many first time directors, working with no budget and no stars can say they’ve done that? Hopefully Moore, who has made a mess of a film this time out, can turn this into an interesting career. The ideas are there.