Escape From Tomorrow is a dark Disney drama
Starring Roy Abramsohn and Elena Schuber. Rated 14A.
In 1971, iconoclastic San Francisco cartoonist Dan O’Neill traded his mainstream-media success (with the strip Odd Bodkins) to be part of a collective effort called Air Pirates Funnies. The comic-book series depicted Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters in ways that surely had Uncle Walt rolling in his grave. Lawyers descended and lingered for a messy decade.
Forty-plus years later, an unprepossessing first-time filmmaker named Randy Moore sneaked into Disneyland and Walt Disney World (okay, he bought tickets) and surreptitiously shot this odd little cult item. Although not as confrontational as O’Neill—no shots of Goofy scratching his balls here—Moore’s black-and-white fiction feature has a darkly satirical aura of its own.
The anxiety brought on by being locked in a corporate fantasyland never crosses the minds of his central characters. All Jim and Emily (TV veterans Roy Abramsohn and Elena Schuber) know for sure is that they’re struggling to have a good time. First morning in Orlando, Jim is fired over the phone—something he neglects to mention to his wife or children, Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) and Elliot (Jack Dalton).
Hard to say how that news would affect Emily, who infantilizes Jim at every turn. Not that he needs much help there: the slob drinks too much, refers to the kids coldly as “him” and her”, and chases two underage French girls through the theme park. That may be the movie’s most disturbing subplot, but it’s not even the weirdest part of Jim’s day. Devil faces, alien robots, a black-clad dominatrix, and an outbreak of insidious “cat flu” are part of things that did or didn’t happen on the way to Space Mountain.
It’s amazing that the story hangs together as well as it does, given the circumstances and that so many lines are funny and/or cutting. Escape From Tomorrow will not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s hard to ignore the strange beauty of newcomer Lucas Lee Graham’s high-contrast cinematography. If Disney execs sue, it’ll be because they want Moore and Lucas to work for them.