Escape from Tomorrow ★★★½

I had an annual passport to Disneyland in California a couple years ago. My ex-girlfriend and I used to make the trek to Anaheim at least 3-4 times a month to visit the House of Mouse. After doing this for a year, all those fun times and magical moments began to dissolve and the seams of the Disney experience began to show and unravel. The goodwill my childhood memories of Disneyland had built had been replaced by adult frustrations about long lines, cynicism about Disney's cartoon Romanticism, and plain annoyance about the overwhelming cost.

Director Randy Moore gets this all too well. His indie darling, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, is a parody on the Disney experience. Moore challenges the park's "Happiest Place on Earth" slogan by giving us perhaps the unhappiest day possible for his hapless and hopeless nuclear family. Disneyland has long represented the ideal vacation spot for the "American family" with its manufactured moments and nostalgia, and this film deconstructs the feeling by turning the dream Disney promises in their commercials into a waking nightmare.

Thematically, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is exciting and risk-taking. On a technical level it is, too. Anyone who has heard of this film already knows that the movie was shot guerilla-style at Disney World in Florida. Moore and his small crew went to the park over and again, bringing in their cameras and shooting the film on the sly, doing multiple takes, and managing for the most part to avoid Disney's Orwellian security team. It's inspiring, really, to see an indie filmmaker take such a huge risk by going into the playground of perhaps the biggest corporation on Earth and perverting their iconic imagery.

For all the excitement of the process and the message, I'm not completely sold on the movie's story, or its characters. The story follows Jim (Roy Abramsohn), a darker variation on Clark Griswold, during the last day of his family vacation at the Magic Kingdom. As the movie begins, Jim is informed by his boss that he has lost his job. This sets into motion an unstable man who increasingly discovers himself incapable of holding it all together. As he and his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), take the kids around the park, he finds himself caught under the spell of two French teens. Jim begins obsessively following them around the park, which leads him into bigger and bigger trouble. The plot eventually descends into madness as Jim finds himself facing an annoying fat guy in a motorized wheelchair, a bewitching woman with great cleavage and magical powers, a frightening strain of cat flu, and Epcot center experiments conducted by robots from Siemens. The movie is a crazy fever dream that parodies several Disney tropes, but I wasn't sure all of the ideas were particularly cohesive. The script wanders like a person walking around Disneyland, distracted by the next cartoonish delight.

Even though the story left me scratching my head a bit, the movie itself is clever, creepy, and at times truly brilliant. The sequences on the rides, especially It's a Small World, are wonderful. Moore's decision to use black-and-white photography strips Disneyland of all its vibrant colors and reveals the dark side of happiness. And the consistent use of discontinuity editing by Soojin Chung creates that disconnected vibe you feel after a full day of walking around the park.

ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is well worth checking out.