As you’ve probably heard, Randy Moore’s “Escape From Tomorrow” is a “stolen” film. By which I mean most of the movie was shot surreptitiously at Disney World and Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida, without the Disney Corporation being aware that its precious themes parks were being used as a backdrop for a decidedly un-Disney-like movie.
This prank is what makes the film as much fun as it is. If you were somehow unaware of the gimmick, I don’t think the film, which goes off in surreal and often sophomoric tangents, would play nearly as well.
Just watching how Moore’s actors and crew steal their shots on parks’ rides, in gift shops, waiting lines and at a fireworks show is a giggle. And the assured professionalism of Lucas Lee Graham’s camerawork is equal to or better than most indie films despite the fact he and his crew had to shoot on the fly.
The movie was made with a still camera, Canon’s 5D Mark II, originally developed for journalists in the field who need video capacity. Apparently this camera can also be snuck into clandestine situations where filmmakers want to look like tourists keen to record their every adventure.
Also startling is the decision to film in black-and-white. Evidently it helped with matching backgrounds and the production design. But it does underscore the surrealism into which the film ultimately descends since you tend to think of Disney theme parks in “living color.”
So bravo for all the hard work that went into the planning and execution of this stunt — to say nothing of post-production where editor Soojin Chung had to sync sound recorded on Olympus pocket recorders.
As for the story … well, the movie’s back story is much better.
Before tonal changes and disjointed sequences emerge, the movie starts off okay with a couple, no longer young but well short of middle age, taking their boy and girl for a final day of a Disney parks holiday,
Just before everyone heads for the Monorail though, the dad, Jim (Roy Abramsohn), learns by cell phone that he’s been laid off. He decides to hide this awful truth so the family can enjoy their last day of Disney fun.
Unaware of the looming family crisis, his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), nags more than she probably would while the son, Elliot (Jack Dalton), acts up and daughter Sara (Kateylnn Rodriguez) manages to go missing more than once to compound her dad’s misery.
Then, nerves already frazzled, Jim indulges himself in his own Fantasy World as the family tours the parks.
First there are two flirty underage French girls (Annet Mahendru and Danielle Safady) whose flimsy clothes and coltish playfulness arouses Jim’s Lolita complex. Then there’s a sexy nurse (Amy Lucas), who tends Sara when she scrapes her knee.
Other seemingly odd incidents start to accumulate as the movie takes on a more ominous tone. Elliot’s eyes go momentarily black as in a scare film. Sara is “pushed” by another child. Jim injures his toe.
The Buzz Lightyear ride mysteriously shuts down just as Jim and Elliot are about to board. Following this a strange, dark woman seemingly seduces Jim — or is this just a fantasy?
Gradually these oddities take a stronger grip on the film as it shifts from fun/fantasy into horror mode. Moore never quite tips his hand as to whether this is all happening in his beleaguered protagonist’s mind — or perhaps these fantasies stem from a belief that the Disney vision of escapist entertainment is pernicious.
Whatever the case, the film morphs from a realistic encounter between its family and the Disney parks to a nightmarish one in which a mentally crumbling man confronts a witch and then a mad scientist (employed by Siemens, another corporate entity that most decidedly did not cooperate in making this film).
Maybe this has something to do with Jim’s international drinking tour that starts with beer in a German Gasthof and ends with margaritas in the Mexican saloon. (At Disney World?)
Moore clearly wants to make a point about children’s fantasies pushed by corporate America. But this gets lost amid the sexual romps and lurid scenes of puking and defecation. What is one to make of the “cat flu” Jim has apparently picked up that sees him spitting out hairballs?
So the movie plays best as a joke on Disney. The critique of the corporation and its theme parks, however, is somewhat lame and not at all new.
Moore probably does not realize that Richard Schickel’s “The Disney Version,” published back in 1968, said all that needs saying about Disneyland and its founder’s bland refashioning of childhood for generations of youngsters.
It’s pretty late in the game to be ragging on the Disney version.
Now if Disney wants to exact revenge against Moore for daring to poke fun at its parks while, in a sense, trespassing, I’ve got the perfect solution: Hire him to make a Disney film. Let’ see if he can resist.
Opens: October 11, 2013 Theatrical and VOD (Producers Distribution Agency)
Production companies: Mankurt Media presents in association with Soojin Chung a Gioia Marchese production
Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor
Director/screenwritre: Randy Moore
Producer: Gioia Marchese
Director of photography: Lucas Lee Graham
Production designers: Sean Kaysen, Lawrence Kim
Music: Abel Korzeniowski
Costume director: Gara Gambucci
Editor: Soojin Chung
No rating, 104 minutes