Escape From Tomorrow: The Disney Parks Film You’ll Never See

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In the annals of Walt Disney’s cinematic legacy, there are a handful of infamous films that have been banished from public sight for various social and legal reasons. Song of the South, which has been unavailable to American audiences for a generation due to perceived racial insensitivity, is perhaps the best known. The Sweatbox, a fascinatingly unflattering warts-and-all documentary about the troubled creation of The Emperor’s New Groove, is a more modern example that Mickey buried out of embarrassment.

To that ignoble club, the latest member you can likely add is Escape From Tomorrow, the darling of this week’s Sundance Film Festival. Writer/director Randy Moore‘s debut independent feature is a David Lynch-inspired black & white surreal horror flick featuring Roy Abramsohn as a father trapped in a nightmarish theme park vacation.

The catch is that the entire film was shot inside the theme parks of Walt Disney World and Disneyland — including inside attractions like it’s a small world and Haunted Mansion — without the knowledge or permission the the Disney Corporation. There are even extended sequences set in the Buzz Lightyear queue and aboard the monorail. Everything, including lengthy scenes and complex camera moves, was captured during regular operating hours, with unaware park guests acting as unpaid extras.

A scene from Escape From Tomorrow (Mankurt Media LLC)

Reaction from the handful of audience who have seen the film at the Park City festival have so far been very positive, with write-ups appearing in the New York Times and LA Times. Thus far, Disney has made no official comment, but seeing as how a major scene involves the destruction of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, the company can’t be too pleased.

To quote Drew McWeeny, look for Disney lawyers “climbing onto helicopters and planning a raid on Park City right now,” and don’t expect the film to show up in your local cineplex. Unless you are in Utah to catch this week’s two remaining screenings, this clip is probably the closest you’ll get to seeing this curiosity. (Bonus points to the first person to identify which resort’s pool this was filmed at.)

And here is an interview with the film’s star:


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Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

15 thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow: The Disney Parks Film You’ll Never See

  • January 24, 2013 at 8:17 am

    I’ll let the lawyers and the law sort out what is legal and appropriate. But I hope my next trip to Disney isn’t marred by even more filmmakers expecting CMs and guests to be happy about them mistaking a theme park for their private film studio.
    Personally, even a child knows the perfectly logical reasons behind not bothering to ask permission to use someone else’s stuff. But saying it’s for art’s sake and hoping to turn a profit from it doesn’t make it right, or legal.

    • January 24, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Actually, the legal theory of Fair Use suggests that filming on private property that is a place of “public accommodation” (like a hotel, mall, or park) is permissible for purposes of critical commentary (which this film appears to be a form of). As long as Disney permits people to freely distribute positive images of their park (youtube, fan tribute videos) they are in a legally tenuous position to turn around and single someone out for doing the same thing in a critical context. And there is no indication in any reports that the filming marred or disrupted anyone’s visit like you suggest — Disney CMs were completely unaware of what was happening until afterwards. But, as you say, it will ultimately come down to who has the more expensive lawyers…

      • January 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm

        I suspect you are right about fair use for copyright (although I believe Disney specifically prohibits film and photography for profit without permission at their parks,
        Most YouTube and blog photos would not count as for profit as even most blogs that are affiliates or run ads do not make much of a profit). However, trademark law works differently and I believe that there is no fair use for trademarks. Additionally, using Disney guests in a for profit film without releases or payment is questionable in terms of legality. If this was a YouTube video there would be no privacy issue. But it’s a for profit film, and so that makes it a legal issue.

      • January 25, 2013 at 11:30 am

        There is no prohibition on filming and photography “for profit” so far as I know; at least as far as I’ve been able to determine — and believe me, I’ve looked rather diligently. What I found is that it is “common knowledge” that such things are prohibited, but that so-called knowledge is all based on nothing concrete. If you’re shooting professionally, Disney will tell you (if you ask) that you’re supposed to tell them in advance. The primary purpose appears to be that they don’t want professionals disrupting the overall guest experience, which is certainly understandable (and apparently that was something those who made this film were [wisely] able to avoid). The feeling is that Disney might want to suppress this film because it portrays the parks in a negative light, not because it was made without permission.

        And you have to define what you mean by “for profit.” Photographs (and I presume this could apply to video as well) made inside the parks (and, with some specific exceptions) may be sold as art; i.e., photographic prints and such. What you CANNOT do is license those photos for commercial purposes, such as for use in an advertisement, without Disney’s permission. And you’re not going to get that unless it is Disney itself that is licensing said photo.

        There is a TON of misleading information online on how copyright and trademark law applies to photography, much of it based on half-truths, misunderstandings, and rumor accepted as fact. You should largely ignore opinions (including this one!) you read or hear on what is and is not legal, unless you hear them from an attorney specializing in trademark and copyright law. LOTS of stuff that you’ve likely heard, as well as that which seems to be based on common sense, is flat-out wrong.

        One last thing — Disney parks are private property, and therefore while you’re there they have the right to ask you to stop doing pretty much anything you’re doing (including photography or shooting video) and ask you to leave if you don’t comply, and have you removed if you won’t leave peacefully. But NO ONE ANYWHERE has the right to tell you to delete photographs you have already made, even in that case, though such people often try while pretending (and often actually believing) they have such a right.

    • January 24, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      Yeah rush to defend Disney from all these evil guerrilla filmmakers.

      Brand Loyalty is for easily manipulated clowns.

  • January 24, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I hope those young girls knew what was going on. Had those been my daughters….holy moly.

    • January 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      According to the director, all the main characters (including the “young girls”) were actors who knew what they were participating in. The only “unaware” extras are non-speaking crowd members in the background (which is fairly common in cinema verite style filmmaking).

  • January 24, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Wow !! I can’t wait for Disney to jump on this one and squash it. This is the exact reason why there are so many rules and regulations that affect regular folks. It’s because some choose to abuse or flaunt there so called rights without regards for others privacy or consent. If this is let out I can guarantee there will be a new sentence on the back of your pass regarding filming for public distribution. I would not consent to myself or my family being shown in such a film and can hear the massive uproar. Which ironically is what the actor and maker want because they can’t be creative or groundbreaking themselves they want to get any kind of publicity to get there names out there even if its negative. I fell sorry for them and I feel sorry for disney visiting families who ultimately have to foot the bill for the disney lawyers to deal with this film makers juvenile antics.

    • January 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      I bet Owen has a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

      • January 24, 2013 at 4:39 pm

        I love it when people resort to personal attacks instead of debating differences of opinion in a sophisticated manner. Basically you did nothing more than show Owen has a more reasoned opinion than yourself. What a showing of class.

        The fact of the matter is that laws apply to everyone; just because Disney is worth billions doesn’t give someone free reign to improperly use their PRIVATE property. Your use of a park ticket signifies agreement with their terms (a contract). To all those against legal action by Disney, let me and the others know when we can come to your private property and do whatever we want, without your permission.

  • January 26, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Just a statement and question or two. When Disney films a commercial or advertisement in one of their parks they notify park goers when entering, usually by posted signs of the filming for the day. There must be a reason for that and not because Disney is being nice.
    The “extras” in the film, do I think, have an expectation of privacy being that it’s a private business and you wouldn’t expect to be in a motion picture at the Sundance film festival. Would one of the “extras” have a possible court case?
    At this very moment I’m sure Disney is compiling new and updated regulations and rules concerning filming in the parks for commercial purposes with all cast members getting training on enforcement etc.
    Anyone have similar thoughts or new questions?

  • January 31, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I work in the production department for a very large media company, and we always secure releases from background people. Our Legal folks have told me that a person’s image is like their own intellectual property. So without a signed talent release, a person appearing without their consent could sue the parties involved in producing the video/movie… which is why reality shows are filled with ‘blurred faces’ in the background – those are people who did not sign a release. The same thing applies to the owner of the property where filming takes place, especially if identifiable trademarks are visible. IMO, that’s the most interesting issue here, since Disney trademarks are presumably rampant throughout the film, and using them without permission is a clear violation of trademark law.
    The other point is that it’s not always about which party will WIN in a courtroom – it’s more often about which party wants to AVOID a courtroom, and how much they can afford to spend in order to do so.
    NOTE that I am not a lawyer, so YMMV. 🙂


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