The Disney magic on display in first trailer for the indie film Escape From Tomorrow is not the kind of Disney magic Disney wants you to see.
The buzzy film has no stars, but has been a topic of discussion since it premiered at Sundance, mostly because of the sneaky way it was made. The surrealist story of a man unraveling during a family vacation was filmed covertly at Disney World and Disneyland, and director Randy Moore even edited the film in South Korea to avoid anyone leaking word of its existence to the behemoth family entertainment factory. Though it was initially unclear whether the film would ever actually be released, in August Producers Distribution Agency gave it a fall release in theaters and on VOD.
The trailer gives a good sense of how the film transforms Disney's aesthetic into the stuff of nightmare. (Not like that hasn't been done before—see artist Paul McCarthy's "WS.") Even seemingly innocent shots of characters like Mickey Mouse have a sinister quality. The film tells the story of a father on vacation with his family at the resort who descends into a madness, becoming obsessed with a pair of French girls, deciding that his son wants to kill him, and facing the threat of "cat flu." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "bizarre, sophomoric, hallucinatory, sometimes funny and often an undisciplined prank."
The question, of course, is how Disney is letting this slide. The trailer, with its declaration that it has "not been approved" by Disney, and a poster featuring a bloody Mickey Mouse hand seem intended to provoke the ire of the company. Back in January Tim Wu at the New Yorker explained why Disney's case against the film isn't terribly strong. "Though the filmmakers may have committed trespass when they broke Disney World’s rules and if it violated the terms of entry on their tickets, the film itself is a different matter," Wu wrote. "As commentary on the social ideals of Disney World, it seems to clearly fall within a well-recognized category of fair use, and therefore probably will not be stopped by a court using copyright or trademark laws."
For now, watch the bizarro trailer.