Genre: Psychological Horror/Dark Comedy/Experimental
Year Released: 2013
Distributor: Mankurt Media/Producers Distribution Agency/FilmBuff/Cinedigm
Origin: USA/South Korea
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: He Died with a Falafel In His Hands, Short Subject, Allegro Non Troppo, Atomic Falafel, Perfect Blue, Excel Saga, The Truman Show
-Minor spoilers are mentioned in this review.
-This is the directorial debut of Randy Moore. He’s originally from Lake Bluff, Illinois (a far Northern Chicago suburb), and was inspired by his ambivalent trips to Disney World and Disneyland in regards to his father whom he had issues with.
-Escape from Tomorrow was filmed entirely in secret while the crew was in Disney World and it was edited in South Korea (hence the co-production credit) to avoid being watched by the House of Mouse. This is guerrilla film-making on a huge scale, people.
-The biggest name who acted in this film is Afghanistan-born, Indian/Russian-American actress Annet Mahendru who played one of the French girls that the main character Jim follows. She was also in Penguins of Madagascar, The Americans, Neo Yokio, and even in an episode of 2 Broke Girls to name a few.
-Shockingly enough, Disney DIDN’T try to ban Escape from Tomorrow lest the Streisand Effect give this film much more publicity. However, Disney actually added an entry in the Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia for this film to acknowledge it as just some random satirical movie.
-Escape from Tomorrow was an official selection from Roger Ebert of all people for his film festival in Champaign, IL.
Some of you may or may not know this, but I’ll be honest to say that I’m not a Disney fan. Before you sacrifice me on the altar of WordPress, just hear me out. I used to like a bunch of their films as a kid. I’m not going to lie to you. Without going into a huge tirade as to why I fell out of liking so many things associated with Mickey Mouse and company, there were things besides typical adult cynicism. I couldn’t stand how that company gets away with things that no other conglomerate or fandom would be able to shake off. The rampant purchasing of other companies, petty intellectual property lawsuits, film plagiarism controversies, racism, sexism, and overall hypocrisy among so many other aspects that I won’t get into. I had heard about a certain film that dared to satirize Disney and filmed most of the footage directly in Disney World. Once I found out about some of the backstory of this instant of grand scale guerrilla filmmaking, I just had to watch it at some point in my life.
Will this wish for an adept Disney satire come true?
Escape from Tomorrow deals with a man named Jim White. He’s on vacation with his wife Emily, his son Elliot, and his daughter Sara as they’re all at Disney World. Jim gets a call from his boss and is informed that he’s fired. That sets of a bizarre chain of events as he slowly loses his grip on sanity at the so-called Happiest Place on Earth. As he’s going on the different rides or seeing the sights in Walt’s Floridian palace, he starts following two French teenage girls who keep popping up, getting drunk, finding some seductive women, hidden conspiracies in the theme park, and so many other things that are surprisingly terrifying as Jim deals with his sudden psychosis that afflicted his well-being.
Wow, that movie was quite a trip of sorts. For starters, the entire film is in black-and-white which is a stark contrast to the normally colorful Disney locales and characters. Even though it was filmed with camcorders, most of the visuals were very crisp and looked more expensive than it’s $600k budget. Some of the editing really worked like the effects of turning the animatronics into something satanic as Jim succumbs to his mental illness so effortlessly. The music was a nice throwback to Hollywood’s Golden Age while also stylistically parodying old-school Disney soundtracks which really worked here. The horror in this film scared me more than I thought. I had this expectation of Escape from Tomorrow to be straight up snarky and caustic, but there are parts that were legitimately unsettling and more frightening than movies much bloodier than this.
While the satirical aspects of Disney were certainly noticeable, the execution of it hit me in ways that I legitimately didn’t expect. There were the obvious potshots against the theme park like freak accidents or employees getting into sketchy things, but there was one facet that I thought was more brilliant than what Randy Moore may have realized and it involved The Other Woman (No, seriously. That’s the name of that character in the credits). She is the one who seduces Jim in the first act of the film, but she returns in the final act in a subplot where she kidnaps Sara and he tries to get her back. The Other Woman in that scene cosplays as the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves while Sara is dressed like the inaugural Disney princess. Jim finds her in a rose covered bed with her asleep which straight up parodies the “true love kiss” scene before he confronts her. He calls her a witch and she declares that she’s a princess. It becomes revealed that she used to work as one of the princesses and smiled way too much before nearly crushing a girl she considered to be too perfect (one can say she was the fairest of them all in her eyes). She then got into a habit of kidnapping children before returning them to their parents later on while claiming that “smiling [all the time] is bad for the wrinkles.” This was great writing and satire in my opinion since it deconstructs Disney’s propensity for forced optimism to it’s most absurd, yet logical conclusion as she was in an environment to where she couldn’t be sad, angry, or hurt. Her bosses might as well have told her (if I may quote Jello Biafra) “Shut up and be happy!” to her face. It goes back to my Wrinkles review with Miguel’s famous “face reality” quote which challenges people who lie to themselves to feel better instead of acknowledging the dark realities around them.
While Escape from Tomorrow had some underrated elements, there are points in this film that got second rate (Disney villain reference joke!). For starters, there were elements of production that did get substandard. There were a couple of obvious green screen effects that even basic film students would pick up on. The CGI used in the Epcot kidnapping scene didn’t mesh with the live-action visuals even if it was part of a funny joke with the interrogation. Things also got too wacky such as the conspiracy coming to fruition which will mess with people’s heads and not always in a good way. The humor does get tawdry with the nudity and some bathroom humor going on. Okay, that quote about Epcot looking “like a giant testicle” was funnier than it should’ve been, but the blue humor got too much in different parts like the “cat flu” scene which gets quite disgusting.
Escape from Tomorrow was a daring film that I thought was better than what most of the critics thought. The production worked more often than not and the Disney satire worked in surprising ways that I thought worked in ways that were better in hindsight. The soundtrack was a nice stylistic lampoon which also fits with the aesthetics of the film. The acting was surprisingly good, too. Yes, the humor doesn’t work all the time and there were some visual hiccups here and there. I do have a feeling that if Escape from Tomorrow took place in Universal Studios or Six Flags while satirizing Universal or Warner Brothers respectively, nobody would’ve cared as much which shows their hypocrisy and obvious bias towards Mickey Mouse. Stop these double standards and stop sucking up to the house that Walt built. This was a trippy, yet intriguing movie that people slept on.
Also, I have a little side note. Am I the only one who thinks it’s bizarre that Escape from Tomorrow didn’t get banned, yet Jungle Emperor Leo (1997) almost did when it debuted in North America? Let that sink in.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like surreal movies.
Subtract 1-3 points if you don’t feel comfortable with anyone making fun of the Walt Disney corporation.
-Great efforts with the Disney satire
-Quirky and well-fitting soundtrack
-Adult humor gets overbearing
-Production gaffes with green screens and the Epcot CGI scene
-Gets way too bizarre at times
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: Escape from Tomorrow is for older audiences only. The language is strong as the F-word gets used a bunch of times. There’s blood involved with a character getting injured pretty badly, and one unlucky vacationer gets decapitated at one of the roller coasters. There is sex and nudity with multiple scenes including one scene where Asian businessmen fondle Disney Princess cast members (I’m not making this up). Jim gets extremely drunk at different times and there is also some disturbing imagery with one death scene or with Jim’s psychotic visions across Disney World.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Escape from Tomorrow is property of Randy Moore, Mankurt, PDA, Gunpowder & Sky, and Cinedigm. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Mankurt, PDA, Gunpowder & Sky, and Cinedigm.