Escape from Tomorrow is set in a fantasy realm presided over by robots and costumed henchmen charged with pushing and prodding people mercilessly through a series of elaborate cogs designed to keep everyone moving their bodies and spending their money. The realm is loud, garishly lit, and stuffed to its apparent seams with pitiful trinkets that serve as contemptuous reminders of the greed and waste that rule a place that’s revealed to have sprung from the creative loins of a society that favors sensation above any potentially dull forces of calmness or emotional sobriety. Repose appears to be unimaginable, as a moment of reflection might allow one of the realm’s inhabitants to arrive at the realization that the happiness theoretically for sale is both an illusion and a cheap ghoulish joke. No, we’re not talking about a brave new world as put forth by Aldous Huxley, but present day Disneyland.
Director Randy Moore really only has one joke, but it’s a good one: He paints Disneyland as hell by shooting it virtually and suggestively, not to mention illegally, as it is with only a few flourishes apart from the crisp, eerie black-and-white photography, utilizing the park as a self-incriminating found object in a manner that suggests the hallucinatory use of real locations in films such as Alphaville and Code 46. Viewed from a skeptical distance, rather than a willed determination to stuff in as much “fun” as humanly possible over the course of a vacation-as-stay-of-execution, Disneyland immediately asserts itself to the viewer as an ominous alternate dimension primed to suck the little time consumers have away from work right up and away from them. The film shows that Disneyland and other amusement parks essentially trick you into paying them to further enforce the nine-to-five work schedule you despise, and they get away with it by sinking their hooks into your children with their movies, toys, and TV shows. The point, of course, is to turn your children into dutiful buyers at an early age, trapping them into obligations of debt-ridden bauble collecting before they figure out they have a choice.
The most disheartening truth of the Walt Disney Company is that there are otherwise thoughtful and well-meaning people who still buy into the idea that it’s a benevolent dream factory rather than a vast conglomerate promoting sexist- and classist-obedient consumption like any other, and so it’s mildly cathartic to watch Escape from Tomorrow as it flips the bird to corporate theme parks and, by extension, to the joyless institution that’s known as the modern American vacation. The protagonist, Jim White (Roy Abramsohn), is a consciously everyman schmuck who loses his job in the opening scene and proceeds to spend his last day in Disneyland with his family as he loses his mind, probably by discovering the subterranean evil lurking underneath the rides and games and junk food.
Moore uses this whiff of a plot as a pretense with which to spring a few gratifyingly nasty gags: Jim guides his children through Disneyland so he can trail a pair of uncomfortably young French girls; the princesses of the theme park are revealed to be whores for sale to big-spending clients; the robots of the children’s rides are exposed as winking demons. The film is ultimately too content to speak only to its choir (in other words, people who generally wouldn’t be caught dead in Disneyland anyway), and so it quickly grows smug in its gleeful cynicism. Which is to say that, yes, Escape from Nowhere is just a stunt or, more specifically, a calling card, but that might be enough for anyone who’s ever wanted to kick Mickey Mouse square in his padded, pious balls.