Escape From Tomorrow gets a tad paranoid in the Magic Kingdom
According to the film Escape From Tomorrow, there’s a brainwashing facility hidden inside Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. That’s where Jim (Roy Abramsohn) ends up at one point in the feverishly weird, Walt Disney World–set thriller, squaring off with an aging German scientist in a white lab festooned with blinking lights and some very prominent Siemens logos.
If you’re of a certain, let’s say, healthily paranoid mindset, you’ll be theorizing away madly at the accumulation of sinister detail in Escape From Tomorrow, where Disney princesses double as escorts, the food isn’t what it seems, and even the rides have it in for you. As writer-director Randy Moore is discovering, his bizarre microbudget wonder—which opens Friday (October 25)—is something of a Rorschach test for the viewer.
“Yeah, I know. It’s weird,” he tells the Georgia Straight in a call from New York. “I have friends who started reading the [Jean] Baudrillard essays on Disneyland and America after they saw the film. It makes people reconsider the effects of this type of entertainment on this culture.” In general, the film seems to hit on a whole range of suspicions about the corporation—from whispered notions like the Disney theme-park death toll to the cultural imperialism identified by critics like Ariel Dorfman—then lets you invent your own subtext.
For Moore, however, Escape From Tomorrow has a simple emotional logic drawn from his own memories of visiting the Florida theme park with his dad. Set on the last day of a family holiday at the Magic Kingdom, it starts with a phone call informing Jim that he’s been fired. Things get stranger and stranger as the sweltering day proceeds, with a couple of mysterious French Lolitas, a somewhat older femme fatale in Wicked Stepmother garb, and an epidemic of “cat flu” raising the temperature even further. It doesn’t help that Jim’s wife and two kids apparently hate him.
“I did think it’s funny that there’s a big German company that just blasts its name on this giant geodesic sphere and sponsors the fireworks show and the ride,” Moore says, acknowledging that, yes, the Siemens corporation was rather friendly with the Nazi party at one point. But, he continues, “the movie’s a parody. I’m not trying to go after Disney or Siemens. It’s about the experience of going to these parks and the emotions that people feel going to these parks. And there’s no other parks like these parks, at least for me.”
We should perhaps consider Moore an expert at this point, since he spent almost four weeks shooting Escape From Tomorrow at both Disney World and Disneyland—in secret. Knowing that Disney would never grant permission for a location shoot, Moore and his crew mingled with the holiday crowds, referring to scripts on their iPhones and surreptitiously capturing the action with consumer-sized digital cameras. The film’s luminous black-and-white photography is partly indebted to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (which the director and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham both referenced for mood) but is mostly due to the necessity of capturing everything with natural light. Moore then went to Seoul, South Korea, to avoid arousing suspicion while he edited.
“I was hoping it would play on a small indie-festival circuit…and that I would probably be showing it in underground theatres with a tip jar asking for donations if anyone liked it,” he replies when asked what he expected, at most, from his dicey guerilla project. Miraculously, after an explosive showcase at Sundance this year, Escape From Tomorrow was picked up for distribution. There’s been no word from Disney about the movie, let alone the lawsuit everyone was expecting.
Perhaps Moore wished upon a star and his dreams came true, or, more plausibly, there’s nothing all that legally actionable about the film. There’s a certain truth to Moore’s depiction of a disintegrating family working overtime to have fun at the Happiest Place on Earth. After so many days of outrunning security, that is what he noticed the most, he explains.
“Everyone is in this heightened state. Either they’re superhappy or they’re about to murder each other because it’s so hot and humid and nothing’s going their way and they’re just throwing money out the window,” he says, laughing. “The conditions are ripe for just, you know, anarchy.”