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Escape From Tomorrow

“This movie will never be commercially distributed” was the standard reaction of most everyone who saw Escape From Tomorrow at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. They weren’t referring to the film’s surrealistic weirdness but to the way it was made: First-time director Randy Moore shot most of it at Disney World without bothering to say, “Mother, may I.”

I don’t know how many lawyers work for Disney, but a fair guess would be a shitload. There is probably no corporation so zealous about protecting its copyrights and so eager to see infringements of them. The safe bet was that Disney would sue to prevent the release of the film, which makes no attempts to disguise its setting. Even if the filmmakers might ultimately triumph under the doctrine of fair use, it would be easy for Disney to tie them up in legal wranglings for years.

And yet starting this weekend you can see Moore’s film at theaters around the country. What gives? Disney has made no comment on the film, and hasn’t filed any court papers. More than likely they figured that anything they might do, given that Escape From Tomorrow was already receiving a wave of interest, would only help publicize it, as well as play into the hands of those who already like to Rage Against the Mouse.

While some reviewers have read it as an attack on Disney Inc., that doesn’t seem to be Moore’s primary interest (though what’s on screen is odd enough to support any number of interpretations). It begins with Jim (Roy Abramsohn, who resembles a younger Craig T. Nelson) getting a phone call telling him that he has been fired while he and his family are on vacation at—well, you know where. It’s their last day there, so he decides not to tell them about it. But the usual hurly-burly takes on an increasingly sinister tone.

Moore shot the film in black and white for technical reasons—given his guerrilla method, color would have presented insurmountable problems. But the result is brilliant, not simply because cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham captures everything with a sharp, luminous focus, but because it has the effect of stripping the “magic kingdom” of its artificial glamour.

Further description is pointless: It plays like a muted version of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, and it’s biggest flaw is that it takes rather too long to get to where it’s going to. It’s an amazing stunt—you would never guess it had been made on the fly if you didn’t know it—and the most auspicious debut of the year.

Watch the trailer for Escape From Tomorrow

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