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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Escape From Tomorrow’ like a bad acid trip into Tomorrowland


    Mankurt Media

    A man on vacation with his family at Walt Disney World has a mental break from reality as the park transforms into a menacing presence in “Escape from Tomorrow.” The film is unlike anything that’s ever been done before — for better rather than worse.

    The backstory behind the creation of “Escape from Tomorrow” is almost as interesting as the film itself. After the divorce of his parents, director Randy Moore spent a lot of time at Walt Disney World with his father. His relationship with his father broke down over time, and Moore eventually had a family of his own. When he took his children and his wife to Disneyland, he started to see the Disney theme park experience from a different perspective. Not only was the specter of the experiences he and his father shared present, but his wife, who is a native of central Asia and a foreigner to the Disney experience, found the park more disturbing than a psych ward.

    “Escape from Tomorrow” was filmed in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, without the permission of the parks, as the producers feared Disney would not approve of the film’s negative, surrealist interpretation of Mickey and friends. The crew kept their scripts on their phones, and the actors rehearsed their lines and actions in hotel rooms, knowing they could not rehearse in the actual parks without drawing attention to themselves. The film was shot on small, handheld cameras, and after Moore filmed the movie, he edited it in South Korea to prevent anyone remotely involved in the Hollywood film industry from learning that he had shot a feature-length film in the Disney parks without Disney’s permission.

    Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is with his family, wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and kids Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) and Eliot (Jack Dalton), on vacation in Florida at Walt Disney World. At the hotel on the morning of their final day, Jim receives a phone call and is told that he’s been laid off. His relationship with his wife already seems strained, but when they go into the park, Jim starts to have weird visions, and his erratic behavior increases the tension. After he and his wife decide to split up and each take one kid through the park, Jim starts to follow two French girls who can’t be older than 15. A continuous string of strange events unfolds throughout the day.

    The main attraction of the film is the Bizarro World spin on the Disney parks, and the film delivers the guilty pleasure in perfectly disconcerting surrealist fashion. The opening point-of-view shot puts the audience in the perspective of a rider on the famous Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as it innocently chugs along. Then, the person directly in front of the camera is decapitated at the big drop in the ride. While going through It’s a Small World with his family, Jim has sudden flashes of the saccharine faces of the animatronic puppets turning demonic, with huge, sharp teeth and menacing eyes. The scene resembles the hallucinogenic boat ride in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” more than the actual ride. There’s a laundry list of similar distortions, but I don’t want to spoil some of the better moments. Needless to say, the whole park takes on a sinister life of its own, as if it’s all one big conspiracy.

    Unfortunately, at times, the film’s aimlessness induces a sort of lull. The film doesn’t follow an overarching plot so much as it simply wanders along, seemingly content to pick up different strands as they develop.

    If the movie is a theme park ride, then the end goes completely off the rails. Any sense of normalcy that the film had maintained (which is not very much) is completely jettisoned. It is certainly memorable, yet left many in the audience, myself included, scratching their heads. The film has something to say about the insincere nature of manufactured happiness and the unrealistic expectations it breeds, but the wacky ending makes the message difficult to parse. Dedicated, curious viewers might revisit the film for a second viewing.

    Destined to enter into the hallowed pantheon of cult films, “Escape from Tomorrow” presents “The Happiest Place on Earth” as hiding something much more menacing beneath. There are many more hits than misses, and the images here, like the nightmarish It’s A Small World, turn the home of everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic mouse inside-out.

    “Escape from Tomorrow” is currently playing at The Loft Cinema.

    Grade: B

    — Follow Arts reporter Alex Guyton @TDWildcatFilm

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