I’m hard pressed to know whether the appeal of “Escape from Tomorrow,” the much talked about 2013 Sundance Film Festival hit, is that it is a surreal psychological drama about a man who loses it at The Happiest Place on Earth, or if it is simply a stunt film, destined to be best known as the first feature film shot at Disneyland without the permission of the Mouse House folks.
Jim’s (Roy Abramsohn) life disintegrates when he is fired form his job. Unfortunately the middle-aged father of two is on vacation at Disneyland when he gets the news.
What should be a fun filled final day at the park soon becomes a nightmarish journey into Jim’s heart of darkness. While trying to navigate his wife and kids through the park, he becomes overwhelmed by the sensory overload, the artificial fun and even some sexy tourists.
As he slowly becomes immersed in the fantasyland inside his head and the Disney fantasy surrounding him he loses his grip on reality.
Director/writer Randy Moore and cast spent ten days shooting at Disney World with another two weeks at Disneyland, filming surreptitiously on small digital cameras.
The result is a stylish black-and-white movie—a Disney noir—that doesn’t reveal its guerilla roots. It’s a slick looking slice of surrealism that benefits greatly from its iconic setting. The manufactured gaiety of the surroundings provides production value far beyond what a micro budgeted feature like this could afford and is a perfect dreamlike backdrop for the story of the deconstruction of Jim and his psyche.
But I have to wonder if we’d be talking about this movie at all if not for the audacious circumstances surrounding its production. The film’s wonky pacing and indulgence of male fantasy—Princess / Prostitutes anyone?—would suggest this is a feature film that may have benefitted from some story and picture editing.
There are some good ideas here about not being able to run away from your problems, even if you are at the Happiest Pace on Earth but the film changes tone midway through and becomes more self aware as the insanity mounts. Bleeping the word Disney is jarring (although I imagine it is meant to draw a laugh) and too much exposition drags things down in the final half.
“Escape from Tomorrow” is definitely a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience (and the strangest film to bear any Disney imprint, legal or not) but despite Moore’s obvious passion the film feels like it is straining to reach feature length.