The story of how Escape From Tomorrow was made is at least as compelling as the film itself. To create his debut feature, writer/director Randy Moore and his crew did extensive surreptitious filming at Walt Disney World in Florida. Scenes were shot at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot theme parks, as well as in a Disney hotel and aboard the complex's signature monorail.
This is bold filmmaking, and Moore's satiric drama/fantasy/thriller captures many well-observed truths about the Disney experience, including the fact that it's no fun to wait in a long line near a wailing child. I'm impressed by Lucas Lee Graham's black-and-white cinematography. Attractions like It's a Small World are called dark rides for a reason, and they must be very hard to film, especially when the crew is worried about getting busted by park security. Some ride sequences are jazzed up with stylish special effects, as when happy, singing dolls briefly morph into leering, malevolent dolls.
So, kudos for a well-executed stunt. But how's the movie? Hmm. There are interesting facets to this story of a family vacation gone horribly wrong. It may remind you of National Lampoon's Vacation, which likewise centers on a hapless middle-aged dad who takes his family on a disastrous trip to an amusement park (and which likewise is definitely not a family movie). But with its broad, straightforward comedy, Vacation is more successful than the self-consciously arty Escape From Tomorrow at mining dark truths about middle-class families and American leisure.
Escape from Tomorrow stars Roy Abramsohn as Jim, a sad, humiliated man. He gets some bad news on the last day of a family vacation in Orlando, but he keeps it a secret from his wife (Elena Schuber) and kids (Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton). He keeps other secrets, including his lust for a pair of young French women (Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru) whom he bumps into repeatedly at the parks, much as Chevy Chase keeps encountering Christie Brinkley in Vacation.
Jim's day gets worse as it progresses, and stranger. Supernatural events occur -- or is he hallucinating? There are dazzling sights, including the apocalyptic demolition of Spaceship Earth, Epcot's trademark attraction. But certain special effects look chintzy, including some unconvincing green-screen work. Between that, the occasionally awkward acting and the choppy storytelling, Escape From Tomorrow at times seems like film-festival fare, well intended but not quite ready for distribution.
I appreciate the film's observations about Disney. The company is ripe for satire, what with the forced cheeriness, the princess-themed marketing, the obsession with control. But Disney criticism is a well-established industry, and it's better when it's sharper than this.