Though sometimes characterized as the movie that Disney doesn’t want you to see, “Escape From Tomorrow” might be better described as the movie that Disney hasn’t said boo about — yet. Shot surreptitiously at Disney World with a hand-held camera, and portraying the theme park as a nightmarish place closer to the heart of David Lynch than Walt Disney, the black-and-white indie horror film by first-time filmmaker Randy Moore was the talk of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
That’s mainly because everyone expected the normally litigious company’s lawyers to slap the film — which compares the park’s costumed princesses to prostitutes, among other affronts — out of the projector before it got commercially screened. That didn’t happen.
If it had, the controversy might actually have helped the film, which is juvenile, disjointed and pointlessly revolting at times, although there are a few moments of disturbingly stark visual beauty. Absent a legal brouhaha, there’s not a whole lot to be curious about here. Of course the film’s back story, which involved guerilla-style shooting disguised as normal tourist videography, is kind of fascinating. The handful of scenes that Moore shot using a green screen look obviously digitally composited.
The story focuses on Jim (Roy Abramsohn), an average American schlub on holiday with his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), and two kids (Katelynn Rodriguez and Jack Dalton) at Disney World. On the last day of their vacation, Jim gets a phone call from his boss telling him he’s fired.
Over the course of that day, as Jim and his family enjoy the park’s rides and the “Soarin’ ” hang-glider simulation at Epcot, Jim begins to experience a breakdown, characterized by what looks like a cut-rate form of surrealism. Animatronic park figures turn into ghoulish wraiths; a nurse at the first-aid station (Amy Lucas) warns Jim ominously of “cat flu”; and a Fellini-esque fat man in a motorized wheelchair (Lee Armstrong) keeps popping up to taunt him.
At the same time, Jim becomes hypersexualized, fantasizing about two nubile teenage girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) who are visiting the park, leering lustily at costumed Disney princesses, imagining a thong-clad hottie (Zan Naar) flying across the screen of “Soarin’,” and even engaging in a bit of actual afternoon delight in a hotel room with a woman who looks like the evil queen from “Snow White” (Alison Lees-Taylor).
None of this is especially funny or transgressive, though it might be enhanced by watching it at midnight with a roomful of cocktail-lubed Disney haters. Speaking of cocktails, Jim consumes copious amounts of booze as the film wears on. It isn’t clear whether that’s the cause of his apparent hallucinations or his attempt to make them go away.
As a social critique, “Escape From Tomorrow” is weak. At times, the filmmaker seems to suggest that Disney’s mechanistic manipulation of the imagination — after all, its park designers are called “imagineers” — is stifling original thought.
If so, there’s probably a better way to express it. Are the fantasies of a dirty middle-age man, drooling over underage girls in short shorts and grown women dressed as cartoon characters, really something to aspire to?
Unrated. At AFI Silver Theatre. Contains obscenity, nudity, a sex scene, some violence and disgusting imagery. 90 minutes.