The opinion on the Sundance premiere of the new movie Escape from Tomorrow is horribly mixed. People have either loved it and praised it as the bravest piece of cinema they have seen in years or savaged it by saying it is a wacky incoherant mess. But there is one thing that nearly everyone agrees on: Disney will probably never let it see a commercial theater.
The movie is the freshman effort by Randy Moore and was filmed secretly in Disney World and Disneyland using small hand-held cameras. It includes shots of the rides, the iconic Cinderella’s castle, Mickey and the rest of the characters, and some of the Disney princesses doing things that Ariel the mermaid wouldn’t speak about even if she could. Moore does not have the rights to these images and it’s likely that he’ll never get them. You know when you see T-shirts with blurred images on reality shows or logos of franchises blocked out? That’s usually the same problem. To show Escape from Tomorrow while scrubbing clean all the Disney images from it would be like when you tried to watch the Playboy Channel as a kid even though the screen was all blurry.
It’s a shame this may never see the light of day, because Escape from Tomorrow is like nothing else I’ve ever seen before. Jim is a your average middle-aged father with a somewhat shrewish wife and two kids who he takes on vacation to Disney World. On their last day at the theme park Jim gets a call that he has lost his job. He doesn’t tell the family and instead tries to have one more day in this magical wonderland. But, as anyone who has ever taken a hallucinogenic at an amusement park will tell you, it’s not all happiness under those plastered on smiles. Jim starts to hallucinate that everything is out to get him as he starts to follow around two comely French teenagers for God knows what end.
While watching the movie it seems like whatever personal torture Jim is going through is a result of the news about his employment situation and something will happen to snap him back to reality. But it doesn’t. He just goes farther and farther into the abstract, falling down into the surreality of his imagination. The thing becomes so off-kilter, that by the time the words “The End” flash on the screen, you don’t even believe it’s the end but some other type of trick that is being played on you.
The look of the film is much better than what you’d get from your fat Uncle Merle from his handheld camera at the Magic Kingdom. Shot in black and white, it gives the park a sinister edge and also turns it from the Technicolor nightmare that we’re used to and makes it more cinematic, even as the story is taking decidedly insane turns (at one point, Jim is seduced by a woman who seems to be a witch). Though you can tell when there is a green screen in use, these scenes only add to the theme of the movie, making the the viewer aware of the fact that everything they see is an illusion, that this fantasy is really a hyper reality.
In the end, the movie is an indictment of Disney culture, where we try to escape our sad lives for something that is more up beat, something that is more manageable, something that maintains a shred of hope that, sadly will never materialize. It’s because of that, more than the rights issues, that the squadrons of lawyers the ghost of Walt employs will keep this for ever being at a theater near you, and that’s the scariest thing about this whole movie.
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