The fact that Escape from Tomorrow exists at all is astonishing; that it was picked up for distribution is virtually unbelievable.
Director Randy Moore shot his controversial debut film largely on location at Walt Disney World and Disneyland – entirely incognito and without permission. The effort became one of the most talked about movies of last year’s Sundance Film Festival, but many assumed it would never make it to home video due to the notoriously litigious Walt Disney Company. With the help of a good lawyer and Disney’s surprising decision to ultimately ignore its existence, Escape from Tomorrow has arrived on DVD and Blu-ray.
The making of Escape from Tomorrow instantly became the stuff of legend, but the big question is: does the film live up to the hype? Unfortunately, I have to say that the story behind the film is more interesting than the content – although it’s used as more than just as gimmick as well.
Escape from Tomorrow can technically be billed as a horror film, but it’s more of an arthouse cinema experiment. It’s presented in black and white, stripping Disney of its vibrant color pallet. The production would have been decidedly easier to pull off as a found footage film, but Moore and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham went to painstaking lengths to achieve a cinematic look – although the guerrilla style occasionally embraces a cinema verite ethos.
Escape from Tomorrow is about – what else? – a family on vacation at Disney. (It’s never specified whether they’re at World or Land; the park is an amalgam of both Disney properties.) Father Jim (Roy Abramsohn, Creepshow III), mother Emily (Elena Schuber), daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) and son Elliot (Jack Dalton) compose the seemingly happy, average family.
The activity centers on Jim, who first begins hallucinating while on It’s a Small World (featured here without its infectiously annoying music for legal reasons). He becomes increasingly obsessed with a pair of teenage French girls his family keeps running into. While the first two acts provide an interesting setup, the rest of the film devolves into a Mickey Mouse-fueled acid trip that culminates in an ending so bizarre that it would leave David Lynch scratching his head.
Given the left-field conclusion, I was hoping Blu-ray’s audio commentary with Moore and Graham would provide insight into the film. While the pair share some fun anecdotes, the track – much like the movie – leaves many questions unanswered. There is a second commentary featuring Abramsohn and Schuber in character, which is entertaining, but I would have much preferred to hear the actors’ perspectives on working on such a unique project. Far more informative is the disc’s 15-mintue making of featurette.
Disney may be the happiest place on earth, but it must have been hellish to secretly film a movie in the parks (along with some less-than-convincing green screen work). Not only did the cast and crew have to avoid drawing attention to themselves, but they also had to stand in line all day to go on several of the rides many times over – all with a pair of young child actors and while charting the sun’s position to achieve the perfect shot. Escape from Tomorrow brings guerrilla film making to a whole new level. While the surreal final product may be less interesting than the story behind the scenes and the social commentary may be largely lost as a result, the film is worth seeking out for its fortitude alone.