Hyped as the guerrilla film of 2013, Escape From Tomorrow gained notoriety for being secretly filmed at Disney World. Pundits speculated the Walt Disney Company would throw its considerable legal weight into stopping any and all release of the film. It didn’t. Watching Escape From Tomorrow itself gives a clear impression why: for all of director Randy Moore’s cloak-and-dagger shenanigans and anti-megacorporation posturing (the choice to film in black & white implying truth-telling clarity), it’s careful not to offend. Rhetoric about Evil Disney is kept vague, inviting snickers while still advertising the wonders and ‘magic’ of its theme parks.
Psychological horror tricks like skewed angles and fulcrum shots, which make the world appear to spin around hen-pecked patriarch Jim, are all over the production, but never in-tandem with the hidden camera footage. Jim’s encounters with bizarre experiments, demonic visions, coverups, and a possible prostitution ring made up of the park’s costumed princesses are staged, digital trickery using either green screen or isolated rooms. Moore alternates these with depictions of Jim’s family and real visitors enjoying the rides and attractions, which don’t read as the cheerful facade of a David Lynch film, only straightforward wholesomeness. One never sees a park-goer reacting to events, or even not-reacting to events, they’re just background noise for the bits in between. By the time a sinister character gives Disney plausible deniability for the film’s events (and praising Jim’s imagination as comparable to “W’s”), any potshots against the Mouse become disingenuous.
In truth, Moore seems more interested in Jim’s limp masculinity. Saddled with the loss of his job and a fussy wife, Emily, who denies him at every turn (rejecting a kiss with “Not in front of the kids”), Jim slumps his shoulders at his own failure. Soon, he begins to leer at and pursue a pair of French teenagers, so much even his son catches on. Later, he hallucinates a beautiful, naked woman during one of the rides. Despite his mounting obsession, Jim is often thwarted in his attempts to consummate by his son getting sick on Space Mountain or Emily scolding him in the pool. Even success, to Jim, feels like failure: when one of the French girls approaches him, he hesitates at her assertiveness; when he does have sex, it’s after a blackout, where he awakens to find a deranged former princess riding him. Both experiences leave him confused and humiliated. Jim seems much more comfortable with a predatory gaze and passive-aggressive commentary than with actual relationships: one sequence fixates on him ejaculating ointment onto nude photos, his flailing libido unable to cope with the sight of flesh.
Jim’s sole positive relationship in the film is with his young daughter, Sara. Mostly obedient to him, she represents the kind of females Jim would rather engage with. Notably, she is the constant in two of Jim’s fantasies: walking hand in hand with a French girl in one, the other involving the woman he sees in visions. Both fantasies show preference for smiley families who do not defy daddy. Moore, ultimately, hints Jim is being destroyed by his experience in order to be remade in this image–rewarding his slouchy, Nice Guy routine with the woman he “deserves” and manhood restored. Disney World is, after all, the place “where dreams come true.”