As a child, filmmaker Randy Moore remembers having a great time when his family went to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Those family vacations were some of the happiest memories he has growing up. Today, Moore might not admit his love for Disney is long forgotten, but his new film definitely questions the type of happiness theme parks like Disney World are selling to consumers. In “Escape from Tomorrow,” a film shot at Disney World without the knowledge of park officials, Moore delves into the darker side of the Happiest Place on Earth where things turn out to be far from normal for an average American family.
During our interview, Moore talked to me about what inspired a feature film like “Escape from Tomorrow,” the challenges of shooting the film guerilla style and whether or not he was worried about the Disney corporation coming down on him like a trap on a mouse.
“Escape from Tomorrow” was released on DVD March 25.
What is the earliest memory you have as a child going to Disney World?
I remember when the fireworks started that the lines for Pirates of the Caribbean got shorter. (Laughs) We would run through throngs of people to try to get to the ride before the fireworks ended so we could get on it without having to wait in line for an hour.
What changed for you over the years and made you not see the park in the same way you did as a kid?
Well, for me, it was the Happiest Place on Earth because I was there with my father. We had a very close relationship. When I went back as an adult, I didn’t have that same relationship with my dad anymore. We’re not on speaking terms now. Also, my wife is not from the U.S., so when we went, Disney World wasn’t nostalgic for her. So, I was there with my wife and she had never been there before so none of the characters were important to her. At one point she looked at me and said, “This is worse than working on a psych ward at a hospital.” I was surprised. I was still trying to make the best of the trip and trying to make the kids happy. Then, I started looking at it through her eyes. I started seeing the cracks in the veneer and seeing children screaming for $30 plastic wands and people almost having nervous breakdowns in 100 degree humid weather.
Logistically speaking, what were the most challenging things you faced making this film at Disney World without letting anyone know what you were doing?
It was just a lot of planning. We scouted and scouted and had an extensive shot list. Every shot was in the park, so we knew exactly where and when we had to be there. Walking was a big thing because we were kind of chasing the sun a lot. It was the only light we had during the day. We would run from one side of the park to the other side. The park in Orlando is huge. Sometimes we’d be running from Magic Kingdom to Epcot [Center]. That was crazy. It would be noon and the sun would be out and we’d be shooting a scene in front of a castle and you couldn’t even see the castle. It would be blown out [by the sun], so we would have to wait until later in the day. We were all walking miles and miles and miles back and forth from location to location. Poor kids. We had to get wheelchairs for them and wheel them around. They just couldn’t do it anymore. It was too far!
Talk about that shot list a little more. Were there any shots you had planned that turned out to be impossible to capture?
Actually, no. We got everything on our list! At the very end of the shoot, security thought our camera operator and our cinematographer were paparazzi following this famous family. They asked our actors, “Is the paparazzi following you?” We had about one more day to shoot before we moved the production to this hotel offsite where we were going to shoot interior scenes and stuff. I think we were pretty realistic as to what shots we were going to be able to get.
How much, if at all, did you worry about copyright infringement when you started this process? I mean, there are bakeries out there that won’t even put a Disney character on a birthday cake because they’re afraid they’ll get sued for everything they have. I’m guessing you were a bit more lax when it came to that.
When I was making the movie, I made a conscious decision not to think about it because I knew it would destroy me. (Laughs) I knew I would start altering things and changing shots or moving the camera so you couldn’t see something in the background. I didn’t want to have to worry about any of that crap. I always felt, morally, like these characters and this park had transcended a regular theme park. These characters are so much a part of the American experience and our cultural landscape. Try to find a kid who doesn’t know at least one Disney character. My girls are like every other kid. They run around like princesses and that’s all they want to be. For me, that location is where all these memories and emotions that I had as a child with my father happened. Not to be able to comment on that just because it was intellectual property is just ridiculous. Making this film is totally different than if I went out and created Mickey Mouse dolls and then went out and sold them. I didn’t go out and make a movie starring Mickey Mouse, you know? This film is about the experience of going to these fabricated worlds claiming to sell you the happiest memories of your life.
It’s interesting you bring up your daughters wanting to be princesses. I have an issue with the Disney princess culture myself. I mean, films like “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid” are great, but some of the themes like finding true happiness can only be obtained if you also find your Prince Charming sort of bother me.
Yeah, but you can’t stop it! You cannot stop it! I mean, unless I took all their princess costumes and threw them in a pile and poured gasoline all over them and lit them on fire, there’s no way to stop it! Even if I wanted them to stop, that dream has already been implanted. It was implanted by the time they were two years old. That’s why I’m saying that Disney is so ubiquitous. You cannot escape it! I was on top of a skyscraper in Japan about a year ago and there was this giant statue of Mickey Mouse made out of crystals or something. The panoramic view of all of Tokyo was insane, yet everyone was turned around taking pictures of Mickey Mouse.
What is your take on the fact that during its theatrical run and even now, Disney hasn’t made one single comment about your film?
I don’t know. I mean, I always think the worst. I always plan for it. I expected them to come out and say something about the film or try to stop it from being released. I guess I’m slightly amazed that they haven’t said anything; not that I want them to. I definitely didn’t want to spend years in litigation with Disney. We’ve always thought we had a good fair-use argument because it’s a parody about an idyllic day at the Happiest Place on Earth. But, still, I was always expecting some sort of backlash. I’ll just say that I’m very happy they’re not saying anything, whether it’s because they don’t want to give us publicity or because they hate the film and want it to die like Snow White eating a poison apple.
Do you think the guerilla-style filmmaking used in this film is going to inspire more filmmakers to do the same? If so, do you think there is a way Disney and other theme parks can combat it in some way or is it really impossible to stop?
Maybe it’ll inspire people to make their dream project, which would be great. In terms of inspiring people to make guerilla-style films, I don’t think there is anything these parks are going to be able to do to stop it. Everyone has a camera. Everyone has a phone. Unless they can somehow scramble everyone’s phone or video camera so they can’t take pictures, I don’t see how that would be possible. The cameras of today are leaps and bounds ahead of what we were using. Soon, people are going to have camera implants in them and be able to record stuff with their eyes.
If Disney World is no longer the Happiest Place on Earth for you, what is?
(Laughs) Well, I never said it wasn’t the Happiest Place on Earth.
Oh, really? Well, have you been back since making the film?
I have not been back since we finished shooting, no. OK, this is really sentimental, but the happiest place on Earth, obviously, is being at home with my family.
So, if your daughters asked you to go to Disney World again because they had so much fun the first time, would you be open to taking them?
(Laughs) Well, [Disney World] is not a place a grown man should go by himself. It’s weird, though, because you do see those guys. There are a lot of them. There are 50 years old that go alone religiously and without anyone and get on the rides by themselves. (Laughs) If they asked me to go back, I don’t think I would want to go back to Orlando. I might consider going to Disney Hong Kong or something like that.
That’s probably a good idea to go out of the country next time. Disney World Orlando probably has your photo at the entrance with a sign that reads, “Whatever you do, do not let this man into the park!”
That is very possible. (Laughs) Then their mom would just have to take them instead.