Review by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Director: Randall Moore
Stars: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor
Running time: 90 minutes
Walt Disney's severed head must be rolling over in its cryogenic freezer unit. With his fantastic, subversive horror-comedy Escape from Tomorrow, filmmaker Randall Moore has challenged the wholesome image of the well guarded Disney empire and the House of Mouse will never look the same.
The film, which Moore and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham shot surreptitiously at Florida's Epcot Center/Disney World, using handheld Canon DSLR cameras to blend in with tourists, follows the White family on its last day at the resort. Patriarch Jim (Roy Abramsohn) hides his recent firing but still manages to disappoint his frigid nagging wife Emily (Elena Schuber) as he develops an unhealthy obsession with two pubescent French girls (Annet Mahendru and Danielle Safady), neglects his kids, feuds with a crippled man on a motorized cart, and drinks like a fish from The Little Mermaid. Jim's mind is elsewhere, but it may be lost entirely, as he starts seeing strange things, like the park's angelic animatronic Disney characters flashing the sinister eyes and razor teeth of the Cheshire Cat, and Disney Princesses whoring it up for Asian businessmen. Is it in his head or does the park have a dark side that's bringing out his own?
Much has been made of the remarkable methods Moore used to film without permission in Disney World—he got stunning shots of the empty park by being first in line with his undercover crew each morning for seven days and racing to preplanned locations to shoot for 10-15 seconds before visitors flooded in—but lost in logistics and the debate over whether Disney lawyers could and would block its release is what an amazing, ballsy, and challenging work of art Escape from Tomorrow is. By removing the park's bright, joy-inducing colors and forcing viewers to see the world of Disney in black and white, juxtaposed with disturbing sexual and violent imagery, Moore turns the child's dreamland into a decidely adult nightmare. It's over the top and surreal, but actually not much stranger than what goes on at Disney World every day, when you step back and think about all those grown folks in cartoon costumes hugging kids while fountains spurt behind them.
Disney owns a piece of almost everyone's childhood, so do yourself a favor and let those happy memories be perverted for your adult amusement. And if it somehow gets you out of one day spending an arm and a leg to take a screaming brood to the park, that's truly some Disney magic.