Disney World parodies both itself and American pop culture so thoroughly that it makes any further parody redundant. But neither that argument nor the potential for a lawsuit from the Mouse deterred first-time director Randy Moore from trying to make a film about a theme park that is very similar to Disney, if not exactly the same. “Escape From Tomorrow,” Moore’s sometimes surreal, sometimes sophomoric, black comic phantasmagoria, makes for a bumpy theme park ride.
Perhaps to avoid overt copyright infringement, Moore uses green screen for many of the scenes set in Disney World. They end up resembling old-fashioned Hollywood rear-projection. Add black-and-white photography and an epic soundtrack and the film takes on a bizarre retro look. It’s as if the Richard Kelly of “Donnie Darko” (2001) period was making a ’50s horror or sci-fi movie, one set in the alien but familiar land of monorails, costumed guides, and giant teacups.
Vacationing there with his family, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) could sure use an escape of some kind. He starts out the day with a call from his boss laying him off. Then his seriously Oedipal son Elliot (Jack Dalton) locks him out of their hotel room. And of course his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), is a nag, and his little daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) likes princesses and wandering off.
Escape from Tomorrow
No wonder Jim’s mind and eyes roam as the determined fun-seekers wait in line for tacky rides. He spots a pair of pubescent Parisian girls, and like Alice’s White Rabbit they lure him into amusements beyond those the general public enjoys. Projections of his frustrations, fears, and sad sexual fantasies, they include a jovial, sinister man in a neck brace riding a mobility scooter, a seductress with a thing for wicked witches, and the threat of a “Cat Fever” epidemic disclosed by the tearful nurse at the first-aid station.
Clearly Jim has a lot on his mind. So does Emily, who, in addition to her suspicions and nitpicking, is seeing things, too. She confides to Jim that there is something wrong with this place. But nothing their stressed-out subconscious minds or Moore’s creative imagination churn out can compete with the real thing, or rather the real simulation of real things (like “The Matrix”-era Wachowski siblings, Moore knows his Baudrillard) that is Disney World. Those thrill rides might be G-rated, but they’re hard to escape.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.