Monday, May 5, 2014

"Escape From Tomorrow": Exploring the Darker Side of Disney Left Me Feeling Lost

Now Available on Blu-Ray and DVD

I don’t understand what the hell I just watched.  I was really excited about watching this one, for it sounded like a fantastic piece of counterculture taking stabs at Disney.  After all, almost the entire film was shot on Disney World property without permits and without Disney’s knowledge.  That in and of itself intrigued me enough to give this one a look.  However, I walked away from this flick disturbed and confused, unsure about the messages the director was trying to communicate or whether he understood them himself.

Jim is a husband and father with his family on vacation in an unnamed theme park, though Disney iconography is clearly everywhere.  After he receives a phone call wherein he loses his job, he begins a journey into madness… I guess.  See, I’m really unsure I can even say this movie has that much of a plot.  The majority of the film’s runtime is Jim taking his kids on rides and arguing with his wife, as the trip is clearly stressing him out.  However, this day in the park will also lead Jim in a multitude of bizarre directions, like stalking two underage girls and repeatedly encountering an obese person on a scooter who he thinks is out to get him.  And while I did get a chuckle out of one or two gags, much of the film’s bizarre black comedy just left me feeling grossed out, particularly the pedophilic glances Jim gives to those teenage girls.  It all comes across as just soul-crushingly sad, but it never really unifies the depressing moments into a cohesive message about how Schmisney World is pushing Jim to this point.  Instead, I grew to despise our protagonist, and even with a ninety minute runtime I was checking my watch to see how long before the film ended.

And then we hit the third act, where I just gave up trying to even comprehend what was going on.  To name just a few of the stranger plot points, Jim gets captured by a scientist who turns out to be a robot, his daughter gets captured by a witch who is a shamed former Schmisney princess, and he contracts a made-up disease that makes him shit out everything in his body and start coughing up hairballs.  I don’t even know what to say about this.  It’s almost like the movie gave up on trying to tell its audience anything of note and decided to just go down the rabbit hole of Jim’s psyche.  I wouldn’t be so disappointed if the mad symbolism ever actually added up to anything comprehensible, but it doesn’t.

I really wanted this movie to be more than it ended up being.  There’s seeds of some truly funny and dark satire of Disney to be had here, but it never fully realizes them.  Rarely, a joke will land or the film will make a sly reference to its own illegality, but these moments are so fleeting that it could only sustain my amusement for mere seconds at a time.  In the end, we’re left with an incomprehensible mess of a film that tries way too hard at being a deeply bizarre commentary and just ends up feeling bizarre.

How do you feel about Disney?  Are they a corporation worthy of critique and criticism?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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