As someone not unfamiliar with the concept of “trippin’ ballz at Disney World,” I can heartily attest to the fact that Walt’s Floridian pleasure dome can be a hellishly grueling experience and the furthest thing from wholesome one can imagine (or, you know, hallucinate). And Escape From Tomorrow is certainly a trip-and-a-half. As a surrealistic depiction of the mental disintegration of Jim (Abramsohn), a seemingly ordinary family guy, while visiting “the happiest place on Earth,” it’s a prank and a spit in the eye of Disney’s relentless cheerfulness. But director Randy Moore’s pièce de résistance goes far beyond flipping the bird to the mouse that roars.
Shot guerrilla-style at Disneyland and Disney World – without any permission whatsoever from Disney and its corporate associates, and with only a bare-bones script – Moore’s Bizarro-world, dystopic take on the entire Disney ethos is the most subversive American film since … well, I can’t think of anything remotely close, frankly. It’s an act of enormous hubris, pointed cultural sabotage, and indelible imagery, and it raises the “stolen film” bar while simultaneously upending the squeaky clean image of the iconic Disney brand. (I like to imagine that the late Russ Meyer, the still very much alive Jean-Luc Godard, and Roman Polanski are cackling with glee over Escape From Tomorrow’s artful ambitiousness.)
With wife Emily (Schuber), and pre-teen kiddos Elliot (Dalton) and Sara (Rodriguez) in tow, Moore’s film caroms wildly from a normal family outing to a descent into holiday hell, sometimes literally. Apparently terminated by his employer in the film’s opening scenes, Jim roller-coasters his way through the worst day of his life, envisioning Disney’s mainstay characters as evil demons, obsessing over a pair of jailbait French girls, having kinky sex with a wicked witch, and more until the film’s final, eerie moments.
What is real and what is simply imagination gone sour in a place like Disney World or Disneyland? For hapless, sorrowful Jim, the real and the unreal become disastrously interchangeable. Thrillingly, the film’s many minor imperfections – its no-budget camerawork, for example – work in its favor, messing with the audience’s head just as much as its out-of-control protagonist. Borderline deviant sexual imagery is everywhere, and you’ll never again look at Mickey’s phallically four-fingered hand in the same way.