'Escape from Tomorrow' and Disney's Dilemma

Trailer for Escape from Tomorrow

In the past, when the studio has sent out its legal legions to stop what it saw as unwarranted use of their intellectual property, they were viewed as bullies. With Escape from Tomorrow, they could start to alter that perception.

It's finally going happen. Ever since the Awards were handed out at this year's Sundance Film Festival, attendees and those who follow the circuit with interest have wondered if Randy Moore's surreal psychological "thriller" Escape from Tomorrow would ever see the light of day. Yes, the subject matter was controversial (the film centers on a vacationing father who appears to be having a nervous breakdown) but not in the way you think. There's no sex or deviant NC-17 behavior. Instead, the reason many were concerned about the movie's eventual release was because Moore, utilizing a guerilla filmmaking technique to realize his vision, set the entire film inside Disney's theme parks, almost guaranteeing that the litigious House of Mouse would be stopping any type of distribution.

And yet, on October 11th, barring a last minute injunction or some other legal maneuver, Moore will see Escape hit VOD, followed by a planned national theatrical rollout. For those privy to the film itself, it seems like a miracle. After all, early reviews argue for an evil "It's a Small World," a distortion of many iconic Disney images, and perhaps most importantly, a denouncement of the company's chirpy motto about its parks being "The Happiest Place on Earth." Over the last several months, writers have wondered when the shoe would drop, when Walt's wise men (read: population of highly paid lawyers) would swoop in and destroy Moore's dream once and for all. Even with the release of an official trailer last week, many are concerned over how this will all play out.

So far, Disney has been quiet. There's been no real response, not even when Sundance (and several dozen reviews) showcased the subject matter and aesthetic approach. The House of Mouse may be playing possum, but they surely must know this movie exists (they eventually acknowledged an "awareness" of it). Even more intriguing is the notion that, perhaps, they will break with their longstanding corporate position and let Moore and his distributor "slide," sensing the film itself has limited appeal beyond an aggressive arthouse crowd. Besides, if a $150 million write-off for The Lone Ranger doesn't cause the company to blink, how could a minor black and white indie drama about a Dad losing his mind amid the many wonders (and wickedness) of the Magic Kingdom hurt?

When you think about it, the entire Escape from Tomorrow topic is an indirect win for the studio. If they battled the determined David, they might end up looking like a greedy, bitter Goliath (though the various copyright infringement and fair use arguments would guarantee a different outcome re: the Biblical analogy). But if they simply let the movie exist, if they allow Moore to "borrow" their imagery for his backdrop and go on to make a few million (which, one imagines, Disney could demand some of via a little bit of behind the scenes brokering), they can actually come across as "cool" and "hip." In the past, when the studio has sent out its legal legions to stop what it saw as unwarranted use of their intellectual property, they were viewed as bullies. With Escape from Tomorrow, they could start to alter that perception.

Of course, the answer remains why would they? If Disney is defiant in keeping their legacy in check (and desperate to keep others from copying Moore's cinematic strategy), why would they let this go? They've forced day care centers to remove homemade representations of their many memorable characters and issued cease and desist notices to individuals involved in all manner of Mickey related media and merchandising. As a brand, one would imagine the company as being far from corruptible. This is The Walt Disney Studios after all. How could a small, independent film with a limited audience outreach and even smaller fiscal realities actual damage the corporate seal? Even some legal minds believe the company's redress is limited since Moore actively avoided trademarked materials and other obvious elements.

Other issues abound as well. Few if any of the background participants signed waivers to appear in a commercially distributed film, and as far as anyone knows, Moore and his distributor aren't planning on blurring out these accidental supporting players (this was something raised by /Film and its writers). Similarly, those with a fondness for Disney may boycott the movie, making sure their agenda stands in the place of the company's concerns. In fact, this angle is more likely than an actual House of Mouse embargo. With its concentration on mental illness and some decidedly disturbing interpretations of same, once could easily see some national organization butting in where no one asked them too (even the Stutter's Association took parts of The King's Speech to task).

Besides, this remains a small fish in the studios massive media ocean. They've got flops to figure out, stars to cater to (and consider parting ways with), Star Wars is bubbling away and Marvel is making more money than even Disney's seasoned bean counters can consider. Letting Escape from Tomorrow come and go without comment or concern would show that the company has grown up, that it's no longer the nasty overseer demanding that all bow to its all consuming, all consumer whims. Sure, if someone wanted to position their product in a way that would truly undermine the company and its bottom line (say, bootlegging their home video releases), that's one thing. To watch as audiences either embrace or shrug off Escape from Tomorrow's experimentation could rewrite their reputation.

There is a still a couple of weeks before Moore's movie makes its bow, and hopefully those pulling the strings understand the possible shitstorm at hand. Disney could still demand Escape's withdrawal while those "accidental actors" featured could follow suit ala Borat and claim a violation of their own privacy, space, principles, etc. And there's no guarantee that viewers will cotton to the end result anyway. Reviews were not unanimous. Many found it amateurish and unexceptional, sledgehammering its symbolism over the heads of its intended audience. Perhaps, as a concept and as a controversy, Escape from Tomorrow will be far more intriguing than the final cut. If and when the majority of us get to see the film, we'll finally know if the actual film lives up to such speculation and hype - and if Disney did the right thing.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.