In a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, an epic battle begins when an unemployed father's sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday.
Directed by Randy Moore
Initial Review by Chris Cook
First off, I praise the accomplishments of the crew of Escape from Tomorrow for using “guerilla” tactics to secretly film a motion picture at the Walt Disney parks. Reading on Wikipedia, cast members kept scripts on their phones and used simple equipment that tourists would record home movies on. I’m also glad a dark movie like this was filmed in black and white. Disney is quite the colorful place and it definitely would’ve had less of an effect.
We’re treated to normal stuff; the family enjoys many of the attractions. Jim starts hallucinating and losing his mind a little bit (reaction from losing his job, is he on drugs?), seeing demonic-looking faces on It’s a Small World. This was taken as normal by me because that ride is creepy as hell. Early on, we can see and feel Jim’s annoyance with his family life. Eventually they split up when there’s a disagreement on which ride to go on by the two children, Elliot and Sara. For a family vacation, a lot of time was spent apart. The dad waits in line forever for the Buzz Lightyear ride, only to have it break down just as they were about to get on (an experience I’m familiar with on the Escape from Gringotts ride at Universal), while Emily, his wife, and Sara ride a series of attractions. After this, Jim finds and begins to follow the two French teenagers, even taking his son on Space Mountain, aware that he deals with motion sickness.
This leads to one of the many arguments between Jim and Emily after they meet back up, only to split up again. (Is this what going to Disney as a family is like?) By now, it’s clear that the parents have some issues. Jim is trying to be playful with Emily who is like ‘not now, the kids are here.’ Emily also came across as kind of a bitch and a definite Buzz Killington. And she doesn’t even know Jim had lost his job yet.
The kids swap which parent they go with (Emily takes Elliot back to the hotel and Sara goes with Jim). In the next sequences, we’re introduced to a number of supporting characters and a hint to the awkward conclusion. We encounter (although we see him earlier) an odd man on a motorized cart, whose son pushed Emily over. While treating her scraped knee at a nurse’s station, we learn of the dreaded Cat flu (having seen some guests on the Monorail coughing earlier). After the nurse station visit, Jim meets a strange lady with a hypnotizing necklace on a park bench. She explains that the turkey legs are actually emus and that the Disney princesses are prostitutes that service rich Asian businessman. And if things aren’t fucked up enough yet, Jim wakes up in her hotel room having sex with her.
Who is this apparent witch? What involvement does the guy on the cart have since he appears multiple times, and what about this Cat flu? They were all imaginative concepts, but as a whole lacked focused. What did losing his job have to do with this? And what about the French teenagers? His wife later catches him attempting to talk to one of them in the swimming pool at their hotel, leading to another argument about sunscreen. She also discovers that he had been browsing through a French language book at one of the shops. Ugh!
The second half of the movie takes place at Epcot. This is apparently the longest extended-hours day at the Disney parks in history. Seriously, how long did this day last that they were able to do as much as they did? By this point Jim is fed up with his wife and drinking a lot, but seriously, that’s what you do at Epcot. This is just making Emily bitch and complain more. During yet another argument he finally tells her about losing his job, and when Sara pesters about wanting a souvenir she gets slapped by her mom. The circle of life continues as the family splits up yet again, giving Jim the chance to run into the French teenagers and pursue a fantasy life, which he does on the ride Soarin’ as he imagines a naked “dream lady” on the screen.
It’s called the happiest place on earth, but are the people visiting really happy? Are they being who they really want to be? Are they trapped in marriages? This is one of the overall themes that I felt could’ve been touched on better if they didn’t decide to take the M. Night Shyamalan, what the fuck just happened twist direction. Another running theme was losing your children. Was Jim so unhappy in his current situation that he just forgets that he had kids? The witch and French teenagers really had a hold on him, as he frequently turned his back on his family to envision this fantasy life. We can be proud of Jim, however, for turning down a request from one of the French girls to go with their group. This leads to him being spat on, realizing that once again his daughter is missing and then the crazy happens.
Jim gets a nadful of taser and wakes up underneath the Spaceship Earth attraction. He is being held by an android (although we don’t know this until Jim decapitates him) of the Siemens Corporation. We learn that Jim has been part of an experiment since his father took him to Disney when he was a boy. Visions of who he really wants to be appear on the screen. Everything he has encountered (the ride breaking down, him losing his job) has all been planned. It was now supposed to be time for him to turn over Elliot so the circle can continue. What?
We have another brief encounter with the man on the cart (that character’s purpose didn’t go anywhere), and now Jim is once again looking for his daughter (surprise, surprise). He finds her in the witch’s hotel room lying down on the bed looking like a sacrifice of some sort. As Jim gets her, Sara knocks off the witch’s hypnotizing necklace and they escape.
Disney closes down, Jim sings Sara to sleep and then he has explosive diarrhea and coughs up hairballs. The French girl’s spit has given him Cat flu.
So, Jim dies in the morning after Elliot had woken up and left his dying father in the bathroom. We didn’t get much emotion from any of the family that their father/husband just passed away. From the get go with Elliot, I was like, great another jerk of a child (I did just watch We Need To Talk About Kevin). The hazard team comes in, with no masks on, which I thought was awkward dealing with a flu-like virus. One guy “magically” plants images in Elliot’s head of the Buzz Lightyear ride to make him forget what actually happened. They reset the room (no one died here) and take Jim’s body out as happy guests flock into the park. As Jim’s corpse leaves in a white van that he noticed the first day, “the real Jim” arrives to the hotel with his fantasy girl and a daughter and is greeted to the happiest place on earth. Maybe that’s what happens when we die. We get to go to Disney World as our true self.
Overall, like I said in the beginning, I give them credit for pulling off a difficult feat in filming this. To be even more secretive, the film was edited in South Korea to continue hiding from Disney’s eyes. In the aftermath, the Walt Disney Company opted to ignore the film to avoid increasing its exposure. I liked the concept of true happiness and the bizarre Cat flu (which was hinted at early on), but I feel like the imagination of Randy Moore (director and writer) got carried away. It was almost as if new ideas kept popping out and he couldn’t stay focused without making additional changes. Some things should’ve been left on the drawing room floor. The lack of execution when telling the story hurt this one for me. What would you expect from someone that writes movies (or is supposed to be writing movies)? I enjoyed this movie, but it started losing me once the extreme bizarreness and lack of realism started and I had to think back to remember how and when things were connected. A good effort, but this one falls short. I think I’ll still give it a C though.