By Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times
PARK CITY, Utah -- About three years ago, Randy Moore, a struggling screenwriter living in Burbank, Calif., had an out-there idea: What if he took a tiny camera and, without asking permission, began shooting a Surrealist scripted film at Disney theme parks?
As a child, Moore had visited Disney World in Orlando, Fla., with his father, and he'd recently begun taking his two children, then ages 1 and 3, to Disneyland. Juxtaposing the all-American iconography of Mickey Mouse with a dark story, he thought, would be cinematic gold, or at least deeply weird.
So with the help of an extremely small Canon camera and some very game actors and crew members, Moore made the movie guerrilla-style. He grabbed shots on monorails, rides and anywhere else he could film his performers.
The result of Moore's effort is "Escape From Tomorrow," a genre-defying black-and-white film that was shown for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday night. Shot primarily across the vast expanses of Disney theme parks in Orlando and Anaheim, the movie includes scenes of Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, the Enchanted Tiki Room and the spinning cups of the Mad Tea Party. There are roving princesses and a Main Street parade. At one point, Epcot Center blows up. It is one of the strangest movies shown in many years at Sundance, the kind that seems destined for the label "cult film."
Whatever their opinion of the movie, audiences will marvel at how Moore pulled it off - that is, if they ever see it. The independent film may never be shown in theaters because the specter of a fight with Walt Disney Co. seems to be discouraging companies interested in releasing it.
Sitting at a Park City cafe shortly after Friday's screening, Moore, 36, was trying to take deep breaths. The director has been living the last three years in fear that Disney would find out about his stealth project and quash it.
Moore encouraged those working on the film not to tell anyone, and he refrained from talking about it even with friends. Concerned that if he did postproduction at a facility in Los Angeles someone might blab to Disney, he took the movie to South Korea to edit.
"It got really tense for a while," Moore said.
Although he filmed 25 days on Disney turf, cuing his half-dozen or so actors by phone and blending his crew of three into the crowds, he said he never tried to speak to anyone at Disney. Nor, he said, has anyone from the company contacted him -- yet.
It seems highly unlikely that Disney executives could be happy with Moore's ingenuity. In addition to using Disney trademarks with abandon, Moore marries Disney's family-friendly imagery with a series of odd and grotesque behaviors.
"I have nothing against Disney," Moore said when asked whether he saw his film as political. "It's just upsetting that it was about a one-man vision, and now it's like so much of the world in how corporate it's all gotten."
Two Disney spokesmen did not return messages seeking comment. But the company has a history of snuffing out entertainment that doesn't fit with its brand. Several years ago, Disney bought a script about flawed Muppets characters with the purpose, according to several Hollywood experts, of making sure it would never see the light of day.
Cinetic Media chief John Sloss, who is representing the film at Sundance, said he hoped "Escape" would avoid such a fate: "I hope Disney sees the value of this film," he said. "If the Disney corporation is about anything, it's about imagination, and this film is all about imagination."