The tale of Escape from Tomorrow’s production is much more infamous than anything within the film itself. As the story goes, writer/director Randy Moore was hammering out some daddy issues he associates with the Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida by staging a guerilla film shoot within the park. Filmed without Walt Disney’s permission, Escape from Tomorrow follows a family of tourists around the park, including shots staged in the resort hotel rooms, restaurants, and the amusement park rides themselves. Promising to turn the fantasy land into a live-action nightmare, the film has essentially been reduced to an anecdote about its production, without a whole lot being said about its actual quality. I went in expecting a dark, twisted sci-fi slow-burner that milks the park’s artificiality for an unnerving effect, but what was actually delivered was much more playful & amusing.
Backing up the director’s claim that he made the film as an exploration of his relationship with his father, Escape from Tomorrow’s protagonist is a hapless, lecherous doof of a man who drags his miserable family through Disney World as a means to forget his troubled employment status & loveless marriage. The characters sport the subtlety & nuance of an 80s sitcom family here. The kids are more or less whiny brats. The mother is a humorless shrew. The father is slack-jawed lecher that gets obnoxiously drunk & openly ogles giggling teen girls in the park in plain view of a wife he openly despises. As I’m sure happens often in that Florida sunshine, this group of Disney World tourists is having a full familial meltdown, even without the more sinister aspects of the plot & imagery coming into play.
The acting leaves a lot to be desired in Escape from Tomorrow (I desperately wish the idiot dad were played by Rob Huebel or Ken Marino), but there’s a sense of purpose to the family’s phony, exaggerated mannerisms. The whole film just feels playfully & intentionally . . . off. There are CGI decapitations, a pious reverence to the Epcot dome as a religious symbol, intentionally crude green screen shots that counteract the documentary feel, real life evil Disney queens (sex-crazed, of course), and a persistently cheesy Old Hollywood score that underlines the intense artificiality of the whole affair. It’s not a subtle film. It is, however, a delightfully goofy & irreverent one.
Anyone looking for a deep, prodding indictment of the nuclear, American family unit or a super creepy sci-fi freakout are likely to be disappointed by Escape from Tomorrow‘s who cares/nothing matters tone. The film succeeds in its quest to compose a film almost entirely from shots “stolen” from within Disney World (although the word “Disney” is bleeped out for legal reasons), but much like with all merchandise shoplifted from within those gates, the narrative it runs away with is frighteningly empty, like well-crafted kitsch. Much like with a lot of Disney products, it looks great & has an interesting backstory, but it’s a lot more satisfying as an eccentrically goofy trifle than a work of “serious” art.