Though it has gotten a lot of press over the guerrilla filmmaking tactics employed in its making, the truth is that Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow falls a good bit short of being the subversive take-down of the Disney empire it’s been painted as. It also just plain isn’t very good. Theoretically, I should have been the perfect audience for Moore’s film. I’ve never been a Disney fan, have always found Disney World and Epcot more creepy than entertaining and consider that whole “happiest place on earth” idea an absolute load of clams. So I was prepared to embrace Escape from Tomorrow with open arms. Instead, I find myself filled with an indifference that verges on the supernatural.
Here we have a film that’s a more interesting “making of” story than an actual movie. The hook is that Moore and his cast and crew shot the film — well, large chunks of it — inside Disney World, Disneyland and Epcot without permission and with ill-intent toward the Rodent Empire. And there’s no denying that this is impressive — up to a point. What’s most startling about all this is that it never feels cheap, rushed or furtive. The cinematography is steady and the shot breakdown amazingly complex. There’s no denying that the film cheats on occasion by shooting parts of scenes in other, non-Disney locales, but that doesn’t change how impressive the theme-park footage is. So what is all this impressive footage in the service of? Ah, well, that’s the real problem.
At the center of Escape is the uninteresting story of a thoroughly unlikable family on vacation at Disney World in Orlando. We have schlub dad Jim (Roy Abramsohn), bitchy wife Emily (Elena Schuber), peculiar daughter Sara (Katelyn Rodriguez) and über-creepy son Elliot (Jack Dalton). Each seems involved in some kind of competition to see who can make the audience care the least about him or her. (Long before the movie was over, I was hoping they’d all meet the business end of a steamroller.) The movie opens with Jim losing his job via a cryptic phone call from his boss, but since it’s the family’s last day on holiday, he opts to pretend all is well. Of course, it’s not, but that’s the least of his worries. Maybe.
Once the basic set-up is established, the movie mostly wanders around with no discernible goal. Moore seems to think he’s making something Lynchian here. If so, it’s David Lynch by way of Ed Wood. In other words, the movie is a mess. It gets so bogged down in a kind of truth-or-illusion game that it becomes unclear if it actually even has a point. Is it really anti-Disney? Or is it just some kind of existential claptrap about one unappealing family falling apart? I frankly don’t know, though I lean toward the latter. Some of the Disney stuff almost works, but you really can’t capture the true horror of “It’s a Small Word” without that saccharine endless-loop song — and the film can’t slap that on the soundtrack and cry “fair use.” The film is bold at one moment, then weirdly namby-pamby the next — and that’s before it arrives at its silly “what does it all mean?” ending, which is so negligible you understand why Disney chose not to try to stop its release.
Should you see it? Well, that depends on several factors — not the least of which is whether you want to be in the know about this deliberately controversial movie. There are good — or at least interesting — things in it. But whether there’s really anything here of any depth or lasting merit … well, I’m skeptical. Not Rated, but contains adult themes, language and some nudity.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas