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Escape From Tomorrow

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

An audacious kick-in-the-ribs at the Disney kingdom, “Escape From Tomorrow” is cool, cool stuff — albeit in a clunky and kitsch Ed Wood kind of way.

Director Randy Moore made his film guerilla style by taking a small camera and stealth sound-recording equipment into the Disney theme parks in both Florida and California without permission. His film was released in 2013, but somehow he has managed — until now, at least — to steer clear of a humongous law suit. This seems like a miracle in itself considering how freakishly controlling the big mouse is.

“Escape From Tomorrow” pays no compliments to Disney, in fact it’s a veiled indictment of the style of happiness endorsed within the theme park’s gates. As one line goes, “You can’t be happy all the time, it’s just not possible.” This would sum up the deep-down feelings of Jim (Roy Abramsohn), who, although having been just fired from his job, must wear the all-American-dad-on-vacation facade with his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), and their two kids. This will be the last vacation he can take for some time.

Poor Jim? Nah, not really. He downs two huge beers and ogles a pair of teenage French girls, he pays little attention to his kids and rashly takes his 5-year-old son to Space Mountain (in pursuit of the French babes) though the boy is clearly not ready for the ride. So far, so mid-life crisis. But the brilliance of “Escape” lies in the way that the crisis unfolds in a place where anything bad or unseemly is obliterated, sterilized or just ignored.

Shot in high-contrast black-and-white, recalling 1950s horror movies, “Escape” is charged with a sinister energy that trails Jim’s family wherever they go. And as Jim descends further into the pit of obsession, unable to stop his sexual fantasies about the French girls, off-kilter things start to happen in the “Happiest Place on Earth”: His little boy takes on certain characteristics of Regan from “The Exorcist,” he buys the wrong gift for his wife (she asks for a Dumbo trinket) and then has a tryst in a hotel room, with his kids watching TV on the other side of the bedroom door.

“Escape From Tomorrow” could be the movie Friedrich Nietzsche would have made, if he was still around and actually paid for a ticket (not likely). It certainly tackles an idea few have dared to: the heavy irony and crushing stress roiling inside the theme park’s gates. Consider the money spent, the time wasted in lines and the amount of junk food consumed in the process — all for the privilege of being happy!

Moore and Co. could have gone the whole nine yards into Nietzsche territory and let rip with the sarcasm, but they refrain either to avoid outright warfare with the mouse or because of budget restraints. They did go out on a limb, though, let’s hope it doesn’t snap before moviegoers get to sample the dark side of the happiest place on earth.

For a chance to win one of 10 tickets to “Escape From Tomorrow,” visit jtimes.jp/film.