Am I going to have a mid-life crisis when I go to Disney World next month? I haven’t been there in over 25 years, and from what I understand it has changed immeasurably. Also, although I’m excited for my children to have a fun time, I am anticipating this trip with some trepidation. Everyone tells me I have to love Disney World. I do? Why? Are they all brainwashed, or something? Most of these folks vacation there at least once a year. And almost as soon as they are espousing how great it is, they are informing me about the long lines, the overwhelming crowds and the oppressive heat. Wow—sounds great. So, it was with wild enthusiasm that I embraced this maverick, underground, guerrilla-style film. It’s like 1999’s “Bowfinger” come to life. A trippy film noir that may leave many scratching their heads, but it’s also creepy as hell, and something that I doubt you’ll soon forget. When “Escape from Tomorrow” premiered at Sundance back in January, all the buzz was about how writer/director Randy Moore and his team, entered the resort with their tickets like everyone else—and then began to secretly film this movie with hidden digital cameras and i-Phones. They went on the rides, they attended the shows—and, so far, they’ve pulled it all off without getting sued. That’s a victory in itself. The fact that it’s actually a worthwhile film is a damn bonus.
Jim White(Roy Abramsohn, ably carrying most of the film)has just been informed via a phone call from his employer—that he’s out of a job. He doesn’t share this information with his family because they are on their last day of a Disney World vacation, and he doesn’t want to ruin their good time. But upon entering the Magic Kingdom, Jim starts having some disturbing visions. On a popular ride, the audio-animatronic character faces begin to morph bizarrely. Also, some of the park guest behave erratically, including a wheelchair-bound patron and two nubile, French, teenage girls. The teenagers in particular, appear to be in on some kind of secret, as they giggle, whisper, and skip knowingly around the park. Increasingly antagonistic with his wife Emily(a well-cast Elena Schuber), they mutually decide to separate with a child each for the remainder of the day(grade-schoolers Sara and Elliot), to make it easier to keep both kids happy. But Jim ends up lustfully tracking the siren-like French girls all over the resort, first with his son(who gives off the impression of being “in on something” too), and then with his daughter(who is attended to by a resort nurse for a scraped knee at one point—that we witness weeping uncontrollably after Jim and Sara leave the room). Yes, something appears to be bubbling right below the surface of the renowned Disney World Resort. And before long, Jim finds himself beneath Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, learning more than he possibly ever hoped to know.
This work will be dismissed by some as style over substance, and I think that’s the wrong attitude to take. After the buzz of the clandestine shoot of the movie dies down, there is a dark, compelling story of a floundering man here, with a clear narrative. It’s shot in monochrome black-and-white, which only adds to the creepy noir feel of the venture. There’s also a whole lot of stuff(that I’m avoiding giving away)that definitely contains that “wow, I can’t believe they did that” factor. I mean isn’t it about time that some brave soul like Mr. Moore went after this “happiest place on Earth” nonsense. There’s plenty of room for the opposing viewpoint, methinks, and despite what some may surmise—I am not looking forward to having a bad vacation next month. It’s simply refreshing that a filmmaker had the guts to attack this institutionalized verdict that we all have to adore everything about Walt Disney’s creations. And weaving the tale of a bewildered and put upon Dad throughout the fabric of this “magical” place is an inspired choice to say the least. As for me, I’ll try to smile in November throughout all the forced frivolity. But maybe I’ll knowingly smirk a bit as too, with a fantasy insider “knowledge” of some sort of seedy underworld bubbling right below the Disney surface. And with my professed taste for all things macabre, that may be just enough to get me through. So, the way I see it, watching “Escape from Tomorrow”(for only 6.99 on VOD)before my venture, was a win/win. Grade: B+