Selling Happiness? A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”

Selling Happiness?  A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow

by Todd Tipton

 Image

While I was working at Epcot in the summer of 2008 I came across a family setting up for a picture across the World Showcase Lagoon with the Big Golf Ball .. er .. Spaceship Earth .. majestically in the background.  Being  a good cast member I stopped and asked the family if they would like me to take the photo.  They agreed and I, a veteran Disney photographer by this time, asked them the question I asked before all photos at W.D.W. to get smiles.

“What does Mickey Mouse like?!?”

The family looked back at me in their Goofy hats and shouted “CHE-E-E-ESE!!!”

Well, all except for one little boy who instead shouted “MONEY-Y-Y-Y!!!!!!!!!”

I was laughing so hard I had to retake the photo.

This year, a film that is essentially a feature version of the story above called Escape From Tomorrow caused a bit of a stir at the Cannes film festival.  Said stir emulsified in response to film maker Randy Moore, not just because he bothered to make a dystopian, David Lynchesque film about the happiest place on earth, but because, *gasp!*, he did so by gorilla filming in the parks themselves.  No, I do not mean magical Disney gorilla’s filmed him, although I would definitely see that film.  Instead I mean that he shot scenes in the theme parks without getting permission.  Oh no you didn’t Randy Moore!!!!!!

As you can imagine from the fact that he did not get permission, the point of the film isn’t particularly complimentary to Disney.  The plot centers on an unemployed father losing his grip on reality during a trip to Walt Disney World leading to surreal hi-jinx around the parks like getting into fights with characters, implying that some of the princess characters are actually hookers for Japanese businessmen, and calling Spaceship Earth a “testicle” all in an attempt to justify a line at the end of the film that is apparently the profound statement it was made to deliver: “You can’t be happy all of the time.  It’s just not possible”.

Well, that and to tell us that Mickey likes money.

I have not seen Escape FromTomorrow.  I mean, I would watch it but I highly doubt I or any of you good readers will ever get the opportunity to do so because Moore violated a whole clown car full of intellectual property rights in filming this on WDW property without permission and would likely get his chip ‘n’ dales handed to him in a colorful gift bag by Disney snipers/lawyers if it ever approaches a watchable medium.  So, it may seem funny that I’m going to do a review of a film I haven’t seen.  However, I don’t need to watch the film to weigh in on the moral of it which has been clearly stated by the film maker.  A few years ago I came to Walt Disney World as a non-Disneyphile and managed to get myself into a spot working 6 months in a position that was the ultimate insider’s view of the entire operation: 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, golf courses, arenas, shopping areas, 20+ resorts, and 60,000 + cast members.  I had unparalleled views into the nuts and bolts of the operation of the parks throughout entire seasons, interacted with cast members across the spectrum of company hierarchy, and had complete access to the inner workings of the minds of the Disney guest s from all over the world.   I have ideal experience to comment on the things asserted for our consideration in this film.

So, did I come away jaded with the Mouse ?   Is Walt Disney World truly the happiest place on earth?  Is it what this film says it is?  Is Disney a soulless, insidious corporation only looking after its bottom line?  Does it peddle happiness like a cheap commodity?  Does it attempt to control the very definition of happiness and force it on others by marketing into the subconscious of children through colorful characters?  Does Walt’s cryogenic head lie under the bowels of Spaceship Earth awaiting mourners like Stalin’s body?

And what of the faith I profess?  Can you love Christ and still approve of Disney?

Step out of your car and into the cabin of a written monorail headed towards the answers of these questions and more in this three part series:  Selling Happiness?  A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”.

Por favor mantenganse alejado de las puertas …

 

********************************************************************************

What On The Waterfront Thinks – Oscar Series #6

(All media is telling you something.  This is the sixth post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahbity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes in general and on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!  I will assume you have already watched this movie.  Previous entry in series: The Deer Hunter.)

On The Waterfront

Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Supporting Actress (Eva Marie Saint), Best Writing, Best Director (Elia Kazan) – 1954

“Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary.  Well, they better wise up!” – Father Barry

On The Waterfront thinks that evil prevails when good men are more concerned about suffering for doing good than the good itself.  On the Waterfront is in many ways a follow up to the thinking in Gentleman’s Agreement, Elia Kazan’s first Academy Award Best Picture winner (which will be discussed next in the series).  Gentleman’s Agreement focused on the necessity of action in individual, small, everyday ways to combat society wide prejudice.  On the Waterfront addresses the need for dynamic and bold action by community to protect itself.

On the Waterfront’s focus on how that bold change occurs centers on an appeal to authentic faith.  Father Barry follows the quotation above by saying that anyone who stands by and sees a good man be punished for his goodness without doing anything about it is like the soldier who stood in front of a crucified Jesus and did nothing.  On the Waterfront tells us that real Christianity acts.  Doing nothing makes you complicit.  You become just as guilty as if you were doing it yourself by not standing up for the good.

The film backs up this message through the story of its main character, Terry Malloy.  Terry’s philosophy of life is simple, summed up in these snippets:

“Which side are you with?” – Edie

“Me? I’m with me, Terry.” – Terry

 “Shouldn’t everybody care about everybody else?” – Edie

“Boy, What a fruitcake you are!  Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life?  Do it to him before he does it to you” – Terry

Terry, however, in the glow of Edie’s goodness and love, is forced to come to grips that he was not just a nobody for his attitude.  He realized that he was, in his words, a bum.  He was a guy with no class.

On the Waterfront is passionate about Terry redeeming himself.  In fact, the subtitle to the film on many of the advertisements was “The Redemption of Terry Malloy.”  On the Waterfront tells us that redemption has a price, but it’s worth it.  Redemption, according to the film, does not come from the barrel of a gun.  It comes from being willing to suffer for good.  Terry suffers terrible things for choosing to act towards good.  He loses his job.  He loses his brother.  Ultimately, he takes a beating reminiscent of Jesus before the cross.  Terry’s redemption is not unlike Jesus redemption of Peter after the resurrection for betraying Him in the courtyard.  Terry is given a similar situation at the end of the film to choose a different path than he chose earlier, much like Peter.  Instead of taking a fall for the easy money, Terry stands up after being knocked down.

On the Waterfront deals heavily with Christian themes.  In fact, the movie is almost entirely a study of Christian ethics.  It makes it fantastic to watch if you are looking to film to help you progress in being like Christ.  The film is devastatingly poignant in revealing that the real reason we do nothing as Christians is often because it financially benefits us or we are cowards.

Father Barry’s speeches are the highlight of the film.  After standing by and doing nothing in the beginning he realizes the falseness of his actions when compared to Christ.  As he says, “If you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront you’ve got another guess coming!”  From that point, Father Barry declares that if anyone stands up for good then he will stand up for good with them no matter what the consequences.  It reminds us of Christ being willing to share in our suffering.  It also reminds us that our purposes are not earthly, but heavenly.

I like the Christianity in this film.  The Christianity portrayed is valiant.  It is courageous.  It cares.  It has an eye on the eternity.  It also has earthly implications.  It is defiant in the face of evil.  It acts.  Is it still that way today?

“If I spill, my life won’t be worth a nickel.” – Terry

“And how much is your soul worth if you don’t” – Father Barry

What Rain Man Thinks – Oscar Series # 4

(All media is telling you something.  This is the fourth post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahbity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes in general and on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!  I will assume you have already watched this movie.  Previous entry in series: Gandhi.)

Rain Man

Best Picture, Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best  Director (Barry Levinson), Best Writing 1988

Susanna:”You use me.  You use Raymond.  You use everybody.”
Charlie: “Using Raymond? Hey Raymond, am I using you? Am I using you Raymond?”
Raymond: “Yeah.“

Sometimes a performance in a movie is so strong that it takes a film away from its original intent and draws the focus to the character.  A modern movie that illustrates this is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.  In these cases, the message of the movie becomes secondary to the character study.  This is the story of Rain Man.

The primary intent of Rain Man was to tell us that our family relationships, or lack of them, have powerful effect on us.  That was before Dustin Hoffman successfully lobbied a change for Raymond to be an autistic savant instead of mentally retarded.  That made the focus of Rain Man to tell us about autism and that we need to pay more attention to it as a society.  The evidence of this change is found in that Raymond ultimately does not end up living with his brother (the found family and healed Charlie route) but instead goes back to an institution (a result of another successful lobbying effort from Hoffman).

Even though it begrudgingly took second fiddle , the film still has a lot to say about the effect of family in our life.  Rain Man thinks that broken relationships with our family affect most everything we do.  Rain Man also thinks that we often purposefully misunderstand our family’s motives to mask our own selfishness.  Rain Man thinks that lack of family makes you off kilter in life and that found family has tremendous healing power.  Family is antidote for the poison of selfishness.

Direct references to Christianity or morality are sparse in the film.  Charlie’s girlfriend Susanna gives half-hearted appeals about how using his brother is “wrong” despite the fact that she clearly aids Charlie in being deceitful in his business dealings.  Most of the reference to God is indirectly played out.  First it is played out as the power behind the family unit.  Second it is played out through a common theme of film and literature: the estranged father.

In this theme, the father is stern.  Distant.  Always mildly disappointed.  He never gives his approval.  He surgically points out weaknesses.  The son, somewhat reckless – impulsive – is never good enough.  He leaves but his father’s disapproval haunts him.  It affects his life.  This story resonates timelessly because it springs from our deep spiritual subconscious.  God, to us, feels like a stern, distant father.  We are never good enough.  He promises us things but only when we are worthy of them.   We are mad at him, but we secretly think he’s right.  Our shortcomings haunt us.

Charlie’s story plays this out.  He has a disapproving father.  At his father’s funeral (subconsciously connecting it to Jesus death for us), his father’s will voices his disapproval and his disappointment with his son not trying to connect with him more.  Charlie’s frustration with his father is illustrated with a story he tells of getting all A’s but not getting the thing he wanted – to ride in his father’s special car. Charlie’s used that pain to get into the high end car business where the ethics were fast and loose.  Charlie makes a spiritual reference after this story by claiming his father is in hell looking up and laughing at him.  That means Charlie’s experience caused him to question his father’s goodness.  The parallels that can be drawn to our spiritual lives are vast!

The sad thing is that God is nothing like the caricature we paint him out to be.  Like Charlie, we mask our greed by accusing him of being not good.  As God says to Job, “Would you discredit my justice?  Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”  (Job 40:8)  Our enemy, the accuser, is a master of PR and uses skillful revelation of parts of God while subduing others to paint God as the father described above.  He whispers that our desires are good and that God doesn’t give into them because he doesn’t really love us or want the best for us.  This was essentially his technique in the garden and he still uses it masterfully.  But, God is not like that!  He is a father who gives generously when asked (Matt. 7:10), regardless of our righteousness (Romans 5:8).  He was willing to die for us.  (Romans 5:8)  He always listens.  (Hebrews 10)  He cares.  (1 Peter 5:7) His love abounds.  (John 3:16)

Connection to God puts us into a family.  We, like Charlie, do not know how good that family is until we become a part of it.  That family, the church, scrubs away our selfishness, sometimes in ways that frustrate us.  But, in the end if we stay with it, we, like Charlie, will feel it’s unbelievable goodness.

Charlie:  “I just realized I’m not pissed off anymore. My father cut me out of his will. You probably knew he tried to contact me over the years. I never called him back. I was a prick. If he was my son and didn’t return my calls, I’d have written him out. But it’s not about the money anymore. You know, I just don’t understand. Why didn’t he tell me I had a brother? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it’d have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days.