Wednesday, November 6, 2013


If the Disney empire's meteoric rise to corporate prominence is mass culture's Kampfzeit, then their ongoing vice grip on the global public's eyes, ears, and disposable income is the alternative future where we're all speaking German.  (Maybe the fact that my default totalitarian metaphor is Nazism and not, say, US-backed despots like Pinochet or Mubarak, means that in a way, we are.)  But Onkel Walt's aggressive distribution is, though toxic, just capitalism doing its thing.  It's the dynasty's legacy of claiming the public domain as their own, then renewing their lease on it under the sign of copyright protection, that should inspire your contempt.  They're no less litigious about anything else bearing the Disney name, which is no doubt meant as something of an extralegal gag order on well-deserved satire.  No problem: skewer a doe-eyed anthropomorph in your smarmy media text and it won't be a mystery who your target is.

That's not enough for Randy Moore, though, who dramatizes a Disney World visitor's 24-hour mental breakdown for Escape from Tomorrow with footage shot on-location, guerrilla-style.  That fact alone is what drew me and, I'd wager, the lion's share of audiences, to the film.  Credit where credit is due: it's an impressive feat.  The alternately cramped and lopsided framing is a striking index of Moore's choice of consumer-grade DLSRs to bypass park authorities under the pretense of garden-variety family vacation documentation.  Ditto the oblique angles and jittery handheld once the psychosis starts setting in.  Presumably when and where shooting would have brought too much notice (to understand the depth of the filmmaker's paranoia, consider that he outsourced editing entirely to South Korea to escape surveillance), the on-the-fly stuff is supplemented by green screen effects self-consciously crude enough for a Kids in the Hall sketch.

Not that anything is compromised by such formal levity.  Escape from Tomorrow is a comedy first and foremost, as its subtle-as-a-sledgehammer premise requires.  It's also a pretty consistently funny one, due in no small part to the lead performance by no-name Roy Abramsohn, a dowdy Dennis Quaid type who faces with lethargic incredulity the combined pressures of joblessness, fatherhood, demonic animatrons, nubile French teenagers, his nagging wife, a dowdy Linda Hamilton type, and his needy boy and girl, two shock blond children of the damned.  Said joblessness frames the story nicely by underwriting Disney's tyrannical good cheer with white-collar humiliation, and said animatrons are put to unsubtle work with After Effects horns and fangs, wisely subtly applied; even wiser is leaving It's a Small World entirely to its own already terrifying devices.  Said French girls lend the film rising action (in more ways than one, har har) lifted wholesale from American Beauty, except with girls who look cringe-inducingly like girls, and without the Oscar pandering, mercifully.

Indeed, Moore's violation of bourgeois good taste becomes more and more coterminous with his takedown of the House of Mouse as Escape from Tomorrow progresses.  The laughter surrounding me the night I saw Escape from Tomorrow at the Music Box lapsed evermore to groans as the pedophilia thread progressed, which in turn gave way to matters of the lower bodily stratum.  A series of half-baked gags involving ejaculation, sonorous vomiting, and a poorly-dressed toe laceration punctuate spotty B-movie vignettes that flail about like so many agitated tentacles.  The narrative, such as it is, culminates in a wide angle bird's-eye view of our hero in the throes of violent diarrhea, followed by the hacking of alarmingly hairy phlegm before he collapses half-cocked against the wall, paralyzed in a fiendish grin.  All of this is intercut with long shots of Epcot's iconic Spaceship Earth, exalting a commodified space-age future, the film's brilliantly saccharine score soaring effusively as fireworks explode in the sky.  Manufactured majesty, meet the abject body.  Take that, culture industry!

What may be a snotty confrontation in theory plays on screen as basically a reasonably well-staged gross-out.  What gives it any edge at all is the extratextual knowledge of how and under what conditions those intercut long shots were taken, a knowledge with which anyone coming to this necessarily undermarketed indie presumably comes equipped.  But those are some slim pickings; it's hard to imagine Bob Iger losing any sleep over R-rated toilet humor.  Escape from Tomorrow can be described accordingly as an exercise in warmed over anti-establishment ethos, a sort of National Lampoon's Vacation by way of the Cinema of Transgression.

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