The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Escape From Tomorrow

From the moment it premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Escape From Tomorrow generated enormous buzz. Not for its quality, although it received a generally warm reception, but for its making. Writer/director Randy Moore wanted to make a movie that criticized the incessant commercialization of entertainment Disney, in particular - so he, his actors, and his crew posed as tourists and shot the film inside Disney parks, without the company's knowledge or permission. They filmed on the rides, in front of the famous characters, near real tourists, and around the beloved locations. (Certain otherwise unaccomplishable shots were done on a set or in front of a green screen.) There was some question as to whether the movie could ever be made commercially available, but it has, via simultaneous theatrical and video-on-demand releases.

Jim White (Roy Abramsohn) is on vacation at a Disney amusement park with his family. On the last day of their trip, he gets a phone call telling him that he's been fired from his job. He withholds this information from wife Emily (Elena Schuber), and we quickly surmise that there's tension in the marriage already. While taking their young son and daughter on rides, Jim notices two underage French girls. He becomes obsessed with them and follows them around the park. Suddenly, he begins having inexplicable paranoid and often erotic hallucinations: the animatronic characters on the rides take on sinister qualities; the Disney princesses turn out to be high-priced call girls who make their services available to rich Japanese businessmen; a scientist is doing bizarre things underneath Epcot. (That sound you hear is Uncle Walt turning over in his grave.) Jim isn't sure if he's cracking up or if something more sinister is going on.

Escape From Tomorrow is built around a very provocative idea. Disney sells an image of perfection and happiness. Go to one of their parks and you'll see that everything is made to be perfect. Everyone who works there is endlessly chipper. Frowns are not allowed. With his film, Moore seems to be saying that this approach is not only unrealistic, it's also dangerous. People go to Disney World to escape their problems, but can those problems really be escaped just by surrounding oneself with an illusion of joy? As Escape From Tomorrow winds to its delightfully disturbing conclusion, the story becomes a full-on indictment of the Disney media empire, and media empires in general. We live in a consumer culture where companies use characters or concepts to peddle fantasies. The more people buy into those fantasies, the more merchandise the companies can sell. Walk into any Target or Walmart and see how much Disney stuff is for sale. Not just toys, but clothing, shoes, toothbrushes, clocks, bedding, and more. Make Disney a way of life, they seem to be saying. You'll be happier and we'll be richer! I should add here that I love Disney. Even so, the film does get you thinking about the possibly less-than-altrusitic motivations of such companies.

Shot in stark black-and-white, Escape From Tomorrow benefits from being filmed on location. The unauthorized use of Disney property gives the movie a dangerous, naughty quality that makes it thoroughly enticing to watch. The same is true for the way Moore mixes wholesome Disney imagery with less savory elements (princesses hooking, Epcot as a center of mind control, etc.). Sleeping Beauty provides the reference point for a climactic bit of nastiness, as Jim finds himself face-to-face with a wicked witch. Without a doubt, Escape From Tomorrow is the kind of movie you watch with your mouth hanging open in disbelief of the ballsiness you're witnessing onscreen. Credit must also go to the actors, who deliver natural performances amid a highly unnatural production.

I'd be lying if I said everything that happens in the story makes complete sense or is totally understandable. There's a random quality to some of it, although that's probably an intentional effort to create a dreamlike feel. Yet even when the pieces don't all seem to fit together, Escape From Tomorrow remains almost hypnotically watchable. Most people see Disney in the approved way, as the Happiest Place on Earth. Not Randy Moore. He sees the Most Sinister Place on Earth, and his conception of Disney as a breeding ground for evil turns this into a deliriously entertaining, you-gotta-see-it-at-all-costs motion picture experience.

( out of four)

Escape From Tomorrow is unrated, but contains language, nudity, sexuality, and disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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