Sundance Journal: ‘Escape from Tomorrow’

Every year at Sundance, one movie bursts out of obscurity to become the hottest ticket of the festival. Last year, that was ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild‘. A year before that, it was ‘Catfish’. This year’s must-see movie was ‘Escape from Tomorrow’, which was filmed in Disneyland and Disney World without Disney knowing a thing about it.

The story behind the clandestine filmmaking drew people in droves to the screenings. ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ sold out every show. Press members were turned away because the house was full. Once word of mouth got out about how the movie was filmed, people had to see it for themselves. Another reason for its popularity was the fear that ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ would never see the light of day outside a film festival environment. Rumors began circulating that there’s no way Disney would allow anyone to acquire this film due to copyright issues.

The movie is about a family on vacation at Disney World. Like many families, they stay a few days too many, and now the father is starting to hallucinate. Jim (Roy Abramsohn) has had far too much entertainment. The family hops on the Small World ride, but instead of a sickly sweet ride through the varied cultures around the globe, Jim is greeted with hallucinogenic nightmares of demonic dolls peering at him with devil-like, jet black eyes. He just can’t take it anymore.

Director Randy Moore has created a unique viewing experience. He shot the movie in black and white, added a ’50s-esque original soundtrack created by Golden Globe-nominated composer Abel Korzeniowski, and ended up creating a work that mirrors the live-action Disney movies of yesteryear. He also had practical reasons for choosing black and white. It was easier to incorporate the limited visual effects used in the movie.

The film takes a strange turn when Jim becomes creepily obsessed with a couple of young French girls running around the park. When I say young, I mean young. Thirteen, maybe fourteen. It’s like he’s slowly giving up on his family and descending into a trance.

During my last day up at the festival, I actually met actress Elena Schuber, who plays the mother. We were standing next to each other on the bus and started talking about the movie. She informed me that it took 45 days to shoot it. They had to act like tourists the entire time, even though they had scripted scenes to act out. Some of the more intense scenes called for the actors to perform their lines in front of a green screen.

I think I admire ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ more than I actually like it. The way the movie was shot and the immense amount of planning that went into avoiding getting caught by Disney’s strict security is far more interesting than the actual story on display.

I have a hard time thinking that the movie will ever get a wide release outside of Sundance. The fear is that Disney will use as much intimidation as possible to squash the film from existence. Still, there’s a reason it was so popular at Sundance. It’s truly remarkable what the crew went through to get it filmed. Trust me, you’ve never seen Disneyland in such a creepy light.

Rating: ★★★☆☆


  1. Disney should buy it and distribute it. I never understood why big companies can’t have a sense of humor (in this case, a dark sense of humor) about themselves. Roger Ebert was saying how good this film was, and how the chances of anyone else ever seeing it were slim. That’s a shame.

    • Aaron Peck

      I agree about companies needing a sense of humor. I’ve always thought that movies studios would be wise to hire the RiffTrax guys to do commentaries on their really bad movies. Instead of trying to convince us the movie is good, why not embrace its horribleness and use it to your advantage?

      The problem that I’d foresee with ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ is that even if Disney could find a sense of humor about themselves, I don’t know if they’d be able to get over the pedophile plot in the movie. It’s pretty strong and very unsettling. I don’t think Disney would want any part of it.

      • William Henley

        Eh, just release it under the Touchstone lable or Hollywood Pictures lable. Problem solved.

        I am really interested in this movie, and hope, if nothing else, that the director will release it to the Bittorrent community. This movie actually sounds pretty interesting. I must say last time I went, I started halucinating – I remember the parks being so much bigger as a child, so as an adult, decided that 4 and a half days for the 3 main parks was plenty. I am also single. I went with a friend, but it felt weird, two guys walking around the Magic Kingdom by themselves. You ride Small World a dozen times, because the line is always short, and depending on the time of day, the staff won’t even make you get off. The problem is, by the third time that you hear the song (and the ride is 12 minutes long, at least the one at the Magic Kingdom – I think the one at Disneyland is about 8 minutes long- I got the whole thing that I shot in 1080p), and the cool humid air that is hitting you after you have been walking outside in the heat, you start halucinating. The cancan dancers are hot. That doll on the moon is going to kill you.

        Anyways, I don’t think this is a movie that I would love, but it has an interesting enough plot that I definately want to see it.

          • William Henley

            posted the clip before I really watched it. Wow, with that being the clip that made it online, now I feel dirty wanting to see this movie. I want to see the guy tripping out on a Disney ride!

          • William Henley

            Is it worse than Lolita (either the 1960s or the 1990s version) or Lawn Dawgs? The 1960s Lolita I could handle, the 1990s was unnerving, Lawn Dawgs wasn’t really pedophille, more like he was labled that.

          • Aaron Peck

            Seems the only method of releasing the movie would be through digital download or self distribution.

            I did talk to a few industry people at the festival about it. They seemed to feel that Disney didn’t really have a strong case against the movie, but that distributors would be wary of taking on the movie simply because they wouldn’t want to deal with Disney’s wrath.

            Somehow I think it gets released, but it will be one of those movies you have to actively search for.

          • William Henley

            If you remember, a few years ago, no one would touch Hound Dog. I think they ended up distributing the movie themselves on Blu-Ray and DVD. You could only get it through Amazon. Sadly, the movie ended up sucking. Forget the controversy around it, the controversal parts showed nothing. The movie just sucked. But it was a movie that didn’t get picked up by any distributor, but still managed to get released.

            You know, before I hit post, I decided to go ahead and check out the imdb page. I don’t know the names of the distribution companies though (except for the Canadian one)

  2. JM

    Fox News Latino says ‘Young And Wild’ is coming soon…

    So maybe ‘Escape’ will just get the standard Sundance one-year delay.

    Disney should release it, get Lake Bell to voice the trailer.

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