Escape From Tomorrow (2013)

Directed by Randy Moore

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What’s notable about Escape From Tomorrow is the story behind it.  Long before it was released (until recently I wasn’t even sure it was publicly available) the film was teased as something like cinematic punk rock.  It was the story of people who made a feature length film in secret in Disneyland, without Disney’s consent.  Should the filmmakers be believed, and the media that promoted the movie, Disney wanted to do everything it could to suppress the film.

And that’s all I remembered, that it was a bit of black and white guerrilla-made nightmare set in Disneyland.  Watching it, however, it feels like something is missing.  The film, is entertaining, deranged and made with an appealing energy (you can feel all the hard work that went into it), but it’s just kind of a crass comedy about an unhappily married couple and their kids.

It gets a bit surreal but in a way that feels like style over substance.  There might be some subtext here about the dark underbelly of a large corporation like Disney, but any whiffs of that narrative instead feels like it’s what I wanted the film to be about, something I’m projecting onto the narrative rather than anything I pulled from it.

The film works best when it remains humble, telling a human story about a pathetic middle-aged man who sort of owns his own pathetic ways.  He’s like a Woody Allen character, defined almost entirely by his lust towards younger women and driven insane by it.  He spends much of the film chasing after two young French women who are, well they’re children.  It’s kind of disturbing, even if the point is that they’re too young for him, as his wife points out.

He puts up with his children and alternately tries to make a pass at his wife or ignore her.  The family, it’s clear, is hanging on by a thread, and combined with the whole “happiest place on Earth” thing, well there’s something there that’s ripe for comedy, even if it’s a bit of a cliche.

The film pushes and pulls the family, with some elements of horror but mostly just melodrama and the father’s lustful imagination.  He has inexplicable visions that suggest something’s going on at the park, and later this will develop into full blown hallucinations, or maybe literal evil, but those things feel so rushed as to not even register beyond a quick fever dream.  Instead of being baked into the film as a whole these moments are tacked on.

There’s a witch and allusions to the inappropriate behavior of rich foreign businessman, but this is all just set dressing to the story of a failing marriage and a sad man going through a midlife crisis.

What remains notable about the film is that it was shot almost entirely on location in a Disney theme park, on real rides and around real people.  The film develops its own aesthetic in stumbly black and white photography combined with a rather grand, sweeping score that calls attention to the commodified fantasy of Disneyland.  It works on some level or for sometime, an interesting idea executed with some proficiency.

But it doesn’t feel revolutionary or punk rock in any way.  It’s just a fine movie made under interesting circumstances.  I admire the work that went into, and I’m far more interested in that effort than the end result.

Up Next: Yella (2007), State and Main (2000), Back to the Future Part II (1989)

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