It’s almost unbelievable that Escape from Tomorrow (2013) exists. Writer/director Randy Moore and his crew, in case you’re as yet unaware of their exploits, filmed Escape from Tomorrow almost entirely on location in Walt Disney World and Disneyland in secret, receiving no permission whatsoever from Disney… even after production! On top of that, the film is by no means your average Disney fare, as Moore presents viewers with a nightmarish thriller of sorts instead. But what’s more surprising than the fact that such a movie even exists is the fact that Escape from Tomorrow has, since production, not only played theatrically at film festivals and in limited release, but that it has even been released on home video.
How did the filmmakers get away with it? Well, it seems Disney has basically ignored the film, allowing it to be released with very little fuss. And why not? What could they possibly do about it, really? There’s plenty online about the various avenues Disney could have taken and the relevant difficulties therein. In short, though, Disney is a conglomerate with deep, deep pockets and was certainly not without a wide variety of legal angles from which to approach the project. So Disney could attempt to block the film’s distribution arguing trademark infringement or what-have-you, and force Moore to shelve it forever. But if they did that, the film would undoubtedly be released online somehow anyway and find its audience, even if only through pirating (which is how I’d always assumed we’d eventually see it). So why fight it? Shutting down Moore would do more than simply stifle one man’s artistic expression. It would set a precedent that would basically force Disney to sue the living daylights out of YouTube and/or millions of their users.
And so we get to legally see and own Escape from Tomorrow after all. The film hit shelves on Blu-ray and DVD today from Cinedigm, and it’s well worth watching, if not purchasing outright, I assure you. The film centers on Jim (Ray Abramsohn, Weeds), who learns while on vacation with his family at Disney World that he’s been fired from his job. Overwhelmed by his impotence as a husband and father of two, the film follows Jim throughout the course of that day, as his mental faculties break down… or at least that’s how it seems. Happy, sing-songy animatronics take on monstrous forms all around him, and his children too undergo dreadful transformations. It quickly becomes clear that Jim isn’t the only one incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality, though. For we, the audience, too must struggle to make sense of the odd and occasionally horrific events that befall Jim as he and the family venture out into the most magical place on Earth. And really, when you think about it, Walt Disney World is just the place for such a horror show, isn’t it? After all, a place where dreams come true could, by definition, just as easily breathe life into your nightmares.
It’s a fascinating and troubling piece that half-tongue-in-cheek explores the psyche of the American male, who so often fails to live up to the unfeasible stereotype of the family’s unwavering provider and enforcer. Expected to provide for his family financially, the American male contends with a crippled job market. Expected to be a strong and confident father, he finds himself unable to control his children. Roles may be shifting rapidly in the American family, but for some the pressure to embody these standards is powerful. This is the tension at the heart of Escape from Tomorrow.
The film is often likened rightly to the work of Roman Polanski or David Lynch. Yet immediately after viewing Escape from Tomorrow, I struggled to discern how much of my appreciation for it owed to the daring of the filmmakers and how much of it owed to the Lynchian cryptic nature of film itself that I find so attractive. Ultimately, I realized the film’s message would somehow have fallen flat were it not for the use of Disney World specifically as a location. What’s more American than a hyperreal, capitalist fantasy land, right? It’s the perfect backdrop for a story about the inherent horror of realizing the American Dream is beyond your reach. Sure, for a few days you can forget your troubles with Mickey and Buzz and the rest. But where do you go after that but back into the world you tried so hard to escape from, and with nothing but overpriced trinkets and some photos (and maybe a feature film, if you’re Randy Moore) to show for it? Escape from Tomorrow is a thought-provoking and, I might add, incredibly important film, and it’s simply not to be missed.