It’s hard, knowing its production context, not to watch Escape From Tomorrow without asking how each scene was stealthily filmed. There are certainly a number of scenes where it’s covert filming is glaringly obvious. But generally it’s pretty impressive how quickly this is all forgotten.
Through it’s first half Escape From Tomorrow is a genuinely interesting satire, if not a slightly derivative one. Revolving around a dysfunctional families trip to Disneyland, it opens on our protagonist Jim (Roy Abramsohn) being fired. This sets up Jim’s slow descent into madness over the course of one day in the park. Indeed the first half plays out more like an extreme mid-life crisis, the main plot point being Jim’s pursuit of a couple of French girls that are clearly too young for him. This is hardly ground breaking stuff, in fact it becomes quite cringe-worthy just how predictable Jim’s pursuit of these girls becomes. The same can be said for the characterization of Jim’s wife, Emily (Elena Shuber), who is the cookie cutter nagging wife. For a film that rails against the world of Disney it certainly relies on a lot of cliches.
It is a relief then that there are some genuinely funny moments here, thanks in part to the performance of Roy Ambramsohn, who plays the disillusioned Jim perfectly. Escape From Tomorrow isn’t a laugh out loud experience, instead it’s observations on family life and duplicity at the heart of Disney are so well observed they earn at least a snort of amusement. One joke in particular (let’s just say it involves the Disney princesses and Japanese business men) really strikes at the heart of the contradiction between the fantasy world of Disney and it’s corporate backbone. The slow escalation of the satire helps keep the experience interesting, at least up until the “intermission”, but more about that later.
Those who have seen the trailer will be aware of the bizarre hallucinations that permeate Jim’s descent into psychosis. This all begins with the “It’s a Small World” ride. Jim begins to see demonic faces on the figurines and is tormented by a alternate version of his family. Unfortunately these hallucinations never come over as more than shock tactics. There are even moments that feel like they were only included so as to put in the trailer. Very few visions have any significance, and even fewer actually scare.
Inevitably Jim falls into full blown psychosis, after an “intermission” Jim starts living in his own fantasy world. Unfortunately it is here where all of Escape From Tomorrow ‘s flaws become immediately apparent. In particular the film starts to rely too much on the shock tactics, and having left all semblance of reality it is hard to know what to care about anymore. This final third is not completely without merit. There are still a few moments of clever satire here (Stasi like park security anyone?). But in the end it is a disappointment.
It is hard to deny that Escape From Tomorrow is a fascinating watch for its runtime. However, it isn’t long afterwards that it becomes apparent that, when all is said and done, it is a hollow experience and won’t be worth a second visit. Maybe that is the ultimate satire of Disneyland.