It’s pretty incredible, really. First time writer and director Randy Moore assembled a small crew and managed to shoot a guerrilla feature on the grounds of Walt Disney World without the mega-corporation’s knowledge or consent. No doubt what will draw most people to Escape From Tomorrow is an appreciation of how brave these people were to even attempt making this film, knowing full well how litigious the people at Disney have shown themselves to be over and over again. What’s more incredible upon reflection is how much cohesion this group of filmmakers achieved in the final product, considering the amount of chaos they were dealing with by shooting the majority of exterior scenes in a crowded amusement park.
Escape From Tomorrow recounts the incredibly weird last day of a strained family vacation to Walt Disney World. Early in the morning, Jim (Roy Abramsohn), the early-middle-aged patriarch of a family of four finds out he’s lost his job, and, determined to have a good last day before returning to the reality of his now considerably less easy suburban life back home, decides not to tell his wife and two young children. His wife Emily (Elena Schuber), who naturally suspects his every motive, browbeats and humiliates him at every turn throughout the film, even though it’s painfully apparent that her snark and bitterness never give her any real satisfaction.
We find out pretty quick that she’s probably justified in her maltreatment of her husband, as he barely conceals the lusty compulsion stirred in him by the sight of two ridiculously underaged French girls visiting the park. Using his young son as an excuse to split off from his wife and young daughter, Jim embarks on a truly staggering odyssey through the world of Disney, encountering all sorts of eerie and increasingly terrifying grotesqueries along the way. Shot in starkly contrasted black and white, the effects Moore and his small crew achieve are pretty impressive even without taking into account how nerve-wracking it must’ve been to capture all that footage, ducking security and making sure the crowds of actual patrons of Disney Land didn’t ruin their scenes.
What makes Escape From Tomorrow work beyond the sensational details surrounding its production is the way it ties the fantasy presented by all things Disney to the deadly reality of their impossibility as seen through the eyes of a moderately overweight aging failure. Jim belongs to the last generation who actually thought all that joy and perfection was possible. As his life unravels with steady acceleration along his journey into the dark heart of the Epcot Center, it’s hard not to draw a parallel between his obsession with youth and innocence and the cringeworthy lechery he barely conceals beneath an unfortunate Tommy Bahama shirt.
It’s easier to forgive some of the more egregious flaws in this film when you consider the circumstances under which it was made. While it’s impossible to fully consider this film apart from its sensational context, Escape From Tomorrow’s story and its execution still bring a refreshing new voice to the theater. A movie this weird and over the top shot anywhere else and under different circumstances would probably be more quizzical than incendiary, but perhaps that’s part of the reason why they decided to take such a daring risk in the first place. If Disney represents an idealized world of unstoppable material excess shrouded by nostalgia, then this film is the perfect anodyne to that particular toxic fantasy.