Sundance 2013 Review: You Will Not Look at Disney Parks the Same After You ‘Escape From Tomorrow’

By  · Published on January 21st, 2013

The Disney theme parks are dubbed the “happiest place on earth” for a reason – they bring to life the fantasy of Disney’s movies and the fairy tale characters that populate them. While the parks are clearly geared towards children, they also give adults the chance to “be a kid again” and get lost in the fantasy themselves. Jim (Roy Abramsohn) has taken his wife Emily (Elena Schuber), daughter Sarah (Katelynn Rodriguez), and son Elliot (Jack Dalton) on a family vacation to Disney World, but on the last day of this seemingly idyllic trip, Jim gets a disappointing call from his boss (which he decides to keep secret from his family) and it seems to send him into a bit of a tailspin as the day wears on.

The family’s day at the park starts off fairly normal with the kids dragging their parents from attraction to attraction, but Jim seems to be seeing things on the different rides, and his visions are anything but happy. When Sarah and Elliot want to go on two separate rides, Jim and Emily split up to accommodate both their children. The juxtaposition of Emily and Sarah having a great time on various rides throughout Fantasy Land is funny when compared to Jim and Elliot standing in a seemingly endless line for the one ride Elliot is determined to go on, only furthering Jim’s bad day. But when Jim spots two French teenage girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Manhendru) he had seen that morning, their playful (almost flirtatious) nature draws him in and he begins following them, dragging Elliot behind him.

Seeing how quickly Jim is taken by the girls is almost like watching a child who spots their favorite Disney character and follows them around the park. But the idea of fantasy, when seen through Jim’s eyes, goes from innocent to disconcerting. Elliot (and the girls) notice what Jim is doing, but as Jim begins lying to his son about following the girls it seems to open the flood gates and he does not seem able to help himself as his inappropriate thoughts start turning into inappropriate behaviors.

Jim meets a host of “characters” throughout the day, but their extreme personalities (and the more caught up Jim gets in his own thoughts and paranoia) make the line between what is fantasy and what is reality start to blur. With no job, and a wife who rarely reciprocates his affection, it is not surprising that Jim finds his eyes wandering as he imagines a different (maybe even better) life for himself. But when his slightly humorous nature starts taking a morbid turn, you begin to wonder how much of what is happening is actually in Jim’s head, and how much of it is true.

While a dark take on a place known for happiness may seem like an odd idea, it almost makes sense when seen through the eyes of a man who thinks he has nothing to go back to once the vacation is over and finds himself giving in to his more sinister thoughts and desires. Writer/director Randy Moore’s choice to film in black-and-white helped give the film a slightly foreboding feel (especially when focusing on the scarier parts of the rides), but it also stripped the park of its bright and happy colors, muting things into an almost blank canvas for Moore to paint his own vision on. Escape From Tomorrow is certainly not for everyone, but it is a trip watching a man breaking down in a place created to escape your problems and troubles, not draw them out.

The Upside: An interesting concept that shows a different side of Disney (granted it is one that is seen through the eyes of Moore) plus a score from Abel Korzeniowski which proves music truly can change the tone of a scene, no matter where it may be taking place.

The Downside: The trope of shooting in a place you are not supposed to (as Disney does not allow filming inside its parks) loses its luster after a while and the story starts to lose its footing and direction around the same time Jim does.

On the Side: Because you are not allowed to film in the Disney parks, the production was sometimes limited to a single take and smart phones became necessary tools on the “set” to keep notes and the script since people with clipboards would have been too obvious.