What a story: small-time Hollywood screenwriter Randy Moore (who hails from Lake Bluff) inherited a six-figure sum from his grandparents and decided to blow it on making a guerrilla film at Disneyland and Disney World, with actors and crew all posing as park guests. Disney is notoriously controlling of its intellectual property, so the shoot was conducted with the utmost secrecy and foresight. Moore shot with small, consumer-grade digital cameras, the kind people bring into the parks all the time, and the actors wore digital recorders taped to their bodies. The locations were carefully scouted and the scenes all rehearsed ahead of time; on location, actors checked their lines on cell phones, and shooting in black-and-white helped alleviate the problem of having to use available light. The company spent ten days in Orlando and another two weeks in Anaheim, then Moore used green-screen technology for some of the wide-angle scenes, showing location shots of the parks behind the performers.
Watching the end result, you may wish Moore had broken into Walt Disney Pictures and stolen a script: Escape From Tomorrow begins as a sitcom retread about a middle-aged pud (Roy Abramsohn) with a brackish wife (Elena Schuber), a snotty little boy (blond Jack Dalton, looking like something from Village of the Damned), and a long day ahead of him at Disney World now that his boss has just phoned to tell him he’s fired. Through all the whining and long lines, the hero follows two lithe young French girls around the park and slides into various hallucinations that include vomiting, erotica, and a rowdy sex scene. A visit to the Epcot Center turns into a paranoid sci-fi scenario in which a mad scientist encases the hero’s head in a geodesic dome. Moore wrings the surrealistic potential from the setting long before the movie limps to a close. It feels much like a theme park itself—really exciting at first, but then your senses are dulled, and eventually you just want to go.
Since January, when Escape From Tomorrow debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie has been a journalist’s dream, raising the question of what legal recourse Disney might have against Moore and whether his film could even be distributed. Disney decided to ignore it; it’ll be long gone before the company begins its full-court Oscar press for Saving Mr. Banks, its movie about the making of Mary Poppins (with Tom Hanks as the bag of broken glass that was Walt Disney). You might say Moore has made one of the most talked-about films of the year, except that the talk has mostly surrounded it rather than centered on it; critics praising Escape From Tomorrow on its own merits hail its indictment of Disney’s squeaky-clean corporate vision, which might have been a fresh idea 50 years ago. Escape From Tomorrow is one of those indie hypes that have more to fear from tomorrow than you or I.