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FILM REVIEW: Escape from Tomorrow

Categories: Movies

Amid the ongoing battle between free expression and corporations that guard their intellectual property with an unbreachable wall of trademark symbols, Escape from Tomorrow is a film that simply shouldn't exist. When director Randy Moore premiered it at Sundance, the early word was simply: "See it while you can."

Escape from Tomorrow follows a man on holiday with his family at a theme park that's clearly Disneyland. Jim learns that he's been fired and what follows is an increasingly twisted nightmare that would set poor Walt spinning in his cryo chamber.

Escape from TomorrowRoy Abramsohn stars as Jim, a middle-aged man in crisis during a family vacation, in Escape from Tomorrow. (Films We Like)

Shot in velvety black and white by SLR cameras, the film turns "the Happiest Place on Earth" into a demented, film noir-ish bender filled with cackling cartoon faces, lecherous witches and princesses who turn tricks. Even more audacious is the fact that Moore shot the film without permission at Disneyland and Epcot, using a crew that spent more than three weeks posing as tourists. In a surprising turn of events, Walt Disney Studios has decided to not fight the film's release. This non-strategy strategy seems indicate that the Mouse House would rather let the small VOD- and limited-release film come and go, rather than help the filmmakers' cause with the free publicity that would come with a fight.

The unravelling in Escape From Tomorrow begins with a single phone call. Our everyman, Jim (Roy Abramsohn), stands on his hotel balcony and learns he's been terminated. With the consequences of the news rattling in his head, he heads out for his family's last day at the park. From the beginning, Moore aims for a paranoid tone, contrasting a zippy theme-park soundtrack with surreal imagery. On a monorail ride, the car is crammed with wheezing, coughing tourists. Meanwhile Jim can't keep his eyes off a giggling pair of Parisian teens.

Escape from TomorrowEscape from Tomorrow opens in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver on Oct. 25. (Films We Like)

Although Escape from Tomorrow scores a point for free expression, its script is far less ambitious. Jim is somewhat of a lothario: he drags his kids around chasing the sultry French sirens. Moore lets the music and images do the heavy lifting, covering up for characters as two-dimensional as Donald Duck. Elena Schuber has the thankless task of playing Jim's harpy of a wife, a woman who does little but shriek and apologize for his behaviour.

The film is at its best at the extremes, as a virus spins Jim further out of control. In one particularly inspired segment, he's is taken into the Epcot Center control room beneath the Spaceship Earth. When Imagineers trap his head in a miniature geodesic dome to reprogram him, it's one of the few moments Escape from Tomorrow directly addresses the corporate machinations behind Disney's fairytale image.

While there is a certain giddy thrill to seeing these pop icon images become the backdrop to an X-rated National Lampoon-like adventure, for the most part, Escape from Tomorrow feels like a wasted opportunity.

Although they haven't been sued, Moore and his lawyer/producer were prepared to employ the Fair Use defence and to argue that Escape from Tomorrow is a parody of a typical day at Disney. But that's actually where the film falls flat. As opposed to pointed satire, Escape offers little more than sight gags and the naughty fantasies of a horny husband.

Escape from TomorrowEscape from Tomorrow is filled with provocative images, but shallow characters, says Eli Glasner. (Films We Like)

It's a shame, since the film is being distributed by Producers Distribution Agency, the same folks who who rallied behind the brilliant Banksy doc Exit Through the Gift Shop. Working as a meta-prank on the viewer, that film was a perfect example of a movie that makes the most of its medium. (Incidentally, Banksy is also not afraid to tweak the nose of Disney, often to devastating effect.)

But before you celebrate a seemingly new and more open age of copyright, consider the whitewash campaign of Saving Mr. Banks. The Disney-approved, Oscar-season contender revisits the true story of a battle between Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers and Uncle Walt himself. Since the real Walt Disney was a three packs-a-day smoker who died of lung cancer, star Tom Hanks had planned on chain-smoking throughout his filming. In the end, all today's Disney executives would allow was a single shot of their founder stubbing out a cigarette.

RATING: 3 out of 5 for attempt, but really 2 out of 5 for execution

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