There’s guerrilla filmmaking, and then there’s Escape From Tomorrow, an apocalyptic DIY comedy shot without permission at the “happiest place on Earth.” First-time director Randy Moore smuggled cast, crew, and cameras into Disneyland and Disney World, emerging with an instant cult item about a schlubby everydude losing his mind on the last day of family vacation. At Sundance, the film was greeted as an unmissable event, in no small part because many assumed it would quickly disappear off the face of the planet, a victim of swift Mouse House litigation. Perhaps aware that all press is good press for a micro-budget indie with no-name actors, Disney has apparently opted instead to feign ignorance. As watching it no longer feels like getting away with something, the film can now be judged on its own modest merits—not as some ephemeral act of subversion, but as a sporadically amusing farce with a great gimmick.
There’s certainly novelty in seeing a sprawling, colorful Disney theme park rendered in muted black and white, and corporate kiddie mascots cast as background players in an odyssey of lust and madness. Opening with a joyful swell of fairy-tale strings, Escape From Tomorrow finds office drone Roy Abramsohn getting shitcanned by phone while on vacation. Rather than share the bad news with his wife (Elena Schuber), he rounds up the family for a final few hours of blissful entertainment at Disney World. Once inside the park, though, Abramsohn immediately falls in love with a pair of flirty French teenagers and begins having alarming hallucinations. (Unnerved by those endless boat rides in Fantasyland? This won’t help.) Before long, the fabric of his reality begins to tear further, revealing a dark layer of sci-fi surrealism beneath the park’s cheerful façade.
At times amateurish in its staging—though perhaps that's a product of its stealth production methods—Escape From Tomorrow works best as a comedy of middle-aged anxiety, when simply tagging along with its hero as he lets his libido lead the way. (Abramsohn, a mostly unknown actor, leers and capers convincingly.) But the more outlandish the film becomes, especially in its off-the-rails second half, the less crucial its unique setting seems. Those hoping for an incisive skewering of corporate theme-park culture would be better off revisiting the “Itchy & Scratchy Land” episode of The Simpsons; depicting the Disney princesses as high-end hookers doesn’t exactly qualify as daring satire, though the company might balk at the suggestion that its roller coasters occasionally decapitate riders. Ultimately, the story behind Escape From Tomorrow is much more fascinating than the story of Escape From Tomorrow. If only Moore had sneaked a documentarian into the parks, too. That would be one hell of a making-of special.