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Review: Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Directed by: Randy Moore

Premise: While on vacation at Disney World with his family, a father begins to lose his sanity and discovers something sinister underneath the park’s happy-go-lucky exterior. 

What Works: Escape from Tomorrow is one of those movies that is impressive just because it exists. According to the extras on the DVD release, Escape from Tomorrow was filmed on location at Disney theme parks but without the cooperation or authorization of the Walt Disney Company. The picture was staged and shot guerilla style with the crew using small black and white cameras to create a movie that Disney brass almost certainly would never have approved. Yet there is something about Escape from Tomorrow that, in its own weird way, aspires to the Disney legacy. People forget that there was a dark and subversive quality to Disney’s early work; see Captain Nemo’s murderous insanity in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Pleasure Island sequence in Pinocchio, or the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment in Fantasia. There is a case to be made that if Walt Disney was reincarnated and working today, Escape from Tomorrow is the kind of movie he would make. Escape from Tomorrow succeeds because of the way it mixes the familiar and the surreal. At its most basic level, Escape from Tomorrow is a family vacation story not unlike the 1983 National Lampoon movie. The original Griswald adventure was funny because it channeled the idiosyncrasies of middle class family road trips and Escape from Tomorrow is horrifying by doing essentially the same thing with a Disney World vacation. The filmmakers take advantage of a location that is already inherently surrealistic and turn an adult eye on the park. The filmmakers also find ways to incorporate other aspects of Disney’s signature characters and stories into the plot, with the movie getting a bit meta near the ending. Escape from Tomorrow is about a lot of different things: the difference between childhood and adult fantasies, the reality of childhood versus a commercially friendly version of it, and the way malevolent corporate power is masked by cartoonish iconography. That content swirls together in a fascinating but very unsettling movie.

 What Doesn’t: The appeal of Escape from Tomorrow is inherently limited. The movie channels the work of David Lynch, especially Eraserhead and Lost Highway, and like those films (especially Eraserhead) Escape from Tomorrow is surreal and goes in directions that are unexpected and illogical. The incomprehensibility of Escape from Tomorrow is part of the fun of a picture like this but that’s also going to inherently limit the audience. Appreciation of Escape from Tomorrow is also going to depend on how the viewer feels about the Disney brand. For some people, Disney is sacrosanct. It’s a beloved American institution that is inextricably tied to many people’s childhoods and to the memories they share with their parents and children, so to see Disney associated with sexuality and family dysfunction is probably going to be upsetting for some viewers. But there is a value to desecrating cultural idols and this movie does so in a way that is really creative and thought provoking. The movie does have some shortcomings in its filmmaking. Escape from Tomorrow was made on a low budget. For the most part the guerilla filmmaking style and the black and white cinematography disguise this but the digital effects are spotty and a few scenes were obviously done as composite shots with the Disney backgrounds inserted behind the actors. Escape from Tomorrow is also a bit sexist. The wife is a nag while every other woman in the movie is a seductress, in particular the Disney princesses and the pair of young French tourists that the father lusts after. The creepy sexuality of Escape from Tomorrow is part of its subversive quality but at times the movie is too on the nose with it.

DVD extras: Commentary tracks, featurettes, poster gallery, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Escape from Tomorrow is bizarre but in the best way. The audacity of the filmmakers is enough to make the movie admirable and on a small budget and under difficult circumstances they have succeeded in producing a movie that rivals any of Disney’s recent output in creativity and showmanship.

Episode: #544 (May 31, 2015)