Halloween is over and we’re ready to start celebrating Christmas (which you probably know if you read the October newsletter last week) in the Disney theme parks! Before we dig into the merriest time of year at the parks, we decided to watch something that’s the exact opposite. It’s been talked about for months, but we finally got a chance to watch and review Escape From Tomorrow…
Escape From Tomorrow Review
I wanted to like Escape From Tomorrow. I really wanted to like it. But it’s just not a good movie. From those unfamiliar, Escape From Tomorrow is the controversial independent film that was shot guerilla-style in Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It premiered earlier in 2013 at Sundance, and immediately received a lot of buzz, both in the mainstream media and among Disney fans. I assume most of this buzz was from people who had never actually seen the film, since only a few hundred people saw it at Sundance.
It was highly divisive, but it got people talking, probably more than any other independent film in recent memory. The discussions in online message boards largely centered around the potential intellectual property concerns posed by the film and the ethics of how it was shot. It seemed like everyone had an opinion on the legality of the film (it’s not as if the law is a complex and nuanced area of study that requires several years of schooling to grasp or anything), with most substituting their opinion of what the law should be for what it actually might be. (Never let things like a lack of knowledge get in the way of a good online debate!)
All the debate was wasted keystrokes, as The Walt Disney Company did not challenge the film’s release. This was likely a calculated decision, as this would only incite more controversy, and when the film is forced to exist on its own merits, it falls woefully short. Instead, Escape From Tomorrow was recently released with a small theatrical run and via VOD, to a steady trickle of media coverage over how it was shot, but not much talk of the substance of the film itself.
Let me preface the meat of this review by saying that I have no bias against the tone of the film or the means by which it was shot. Although I am a huge Disney fan, I have no delusions about the Company, and think much of the criticism surrounding Disney in pop-culture is well-founded. (In Disney’s defense, just as much criticism is misplaced cynicism or vitriol against an easy target based on superficial angst.) While satire and commentary on the Disney theme parks has been done to death, Escape From Tomorrow had the rare chance to present a fresh take on it, by using the actual parks as a cinematic backdrop for this commentary. Unfortunately, Escape From Tomorrow doesn’t say a whole lot and brings nothing new to the table. It stumbles around in the psyche of Jim, the father character, but it lacks any semblance of focus in any message it might have. Beyond the basic points that a Disney vacation can be a maddening and stressful experience, it says little of significance. Not exactly a profound film. I suppose you could call it the anti-fairy tale based on select parts of the film, but I think praising it for this would be very charitable.
The writing in Escape From Tomorrow, generally, leaves a lot to be desired. The lines are all very basic, which in part might be out of necessity given the shooting conditions, but it makes the characters feel very vapid and one-dimensional. This also makes the acting by the adults feel flat. The acting is not terrible, but it’s far from good, with line delivery and mannerisms both exaggerated. The acting problem is amplified, though, because at its core the movie is a character study. Tough to accomplish when there is such a dearth of…character.
The movie is very clearly a descent into madness by Jim, complete with hallucinations and some psychedelic imagery thrown in for good measure. But it just doesn’t work. The movie is otherwise very character-driven, and these parts with the psychedelic imagery are just way too over the top, and way too out there. They make the movie feel like a corny exercise in student filmmaking, where the creators felt that the only way to get across their message was to slap the audience in the face with it. Escape From Tomorrow definitely could have benefited from more subtlety in every regard.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad with Escape From Tomorrow. It feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone in a few regards. Cinematography is excellent, with great visuals and a moody, high-contrast look. There’s a lot of shadow and light play, and an engaging camera. The decision to go black and white was wise, as it adds a gritty tone to the film and contrasts the normally vibrant world of Disney. The visual style, whether intentional or unintentional, feels a lot like a Twilight Zone episode, which is high praise. It also feels like a Twilight Zone episode in that it centers on a recurring theme of the Twilight Zone: man’s isolation from the rest of the world and his inability to cope as he falls victim to his own mind. The difference between Escape From Tomorrow and those episodes of the Twilight Zone are that those episodes are less than 30 minutes in length, and yet still manage to be more insightful and better acted than this film.
The idea of Escape From Tomorrow is an interesting one. That, plus the envelope-pushing means by which it was shot definitely score it some points. This is likely why the film presently sits at 60% on RottenTomatoes. Unfortunately, what’s present in Escape From Tomorrow is not interesting enough in execution to sustain a feature film. If edited down to a 30 minute TV show, it would be an interesting concept, but here, the exploration of Jim’s descent just is not enough to carry the film for 90 minutes. There’s too much mundane, repetitive material, and there’s also too much amateur-grade cheese. Cut out all of that, and there might be a sustainable short. All of this is really too bad, as so much effort went into shooting the film (which is really quite well done), that getting the other elements right should have been easy. With the exception of the cinematography and a few bright spots in storytelling and details, Escape From Tomorrow is an awful film. The means by which it was made are just that–means to an end–and don’t compensate for the result. That 60% score on RottenTomatoes is very, very generous if judging the film by its actual merits and not degree of filmmaking difficulty. It might be worth seeing by Disney fans if only for its novelty and discussion’s sake, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Interesting eBay Finds
I have a bad eBay addiction. I’ve tamed it in recent years, but I still get about 20 daily email alerts from eBay for various Disney-related search times. Here are some of the cool listings I find in these emails that I won’t be bidding on myself…
Ice Gator Bobblehead – Back when Blizzard Beach opened, there was a ton of Ice Gator merchandise (in fact, he likely exists largely for merchandising purposes). Presumably, it didn’t sell too well, as he’s only on logo merchandise now.
Dick Tracy Disney-MGM Studios Shirt – Remember Dick Tracy? Disney had lofty expectations (including a “Crimestoppers” ride) for it, but ultimately it was a dud at the box office. If, for some reason, you want to show your support for Dick Tracy, here ya go…
If you’ve written or read a good blog post recently (or know of any meet-ups, etc.), please share a link in the comments of this article. Hopefully this will help me find great new blogs to read and feature in future “Cool Linkage” sections, and also send a bit of traffic your (or their) way!