Escape From Tomorrow, Disney World, and the Law of Fair Use
Before I address the questions of law, here’s the plot of the film, which is, in fact, murkier: A typical American family is on vacation at Disney World, when the father, Jim, finds out that he has been fired. Jim begins to act strangely, and his perception of their day at the park becomes twisted and scary. Aided by the use of black-and-white film, the familiar Magic Kingdom is transformed into something abjectly terrifying, as friendly icons morph into monstrous forms. The father imagines that his son and a creepy man in a wheelchair want to kill him. He also becomes obsessed with a pair of sexy teen-age French girls, and he trails them around the park inappropriately. A nurse warns him that he may contract the cat flu. In the end, his fears are warranted: he is captured and tortured by secret agents, his son turns on him, and he dies a gruesome death that involves coughing up huge hairballs. The film drags and meanders at times, but its potential for cult status cannot be denied.
“Escape from Tomorrow” is, essentially, a commentary on a shared social phenomenon, namely the supposed bliss of an American family’s day at Disney World. In Moore’s version, the day is a frightening and surreal mess that destroys the family forever. The film isn’t so much a criticism of Disney World itself but of the unattainable family perfection promised by a day spent at the park.