In 2013, director Randy Moore released Escape from Tomorrow, a truly repugnant dumpster fire of a “film” that was renowned for its bold choice to be filmed at the Disney theme parks. It’s – strictly speaking – illegal to profit off filmed footage at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, etc. Disney has been known to be quite litigious to those who seek to do such reckless endeavors. But with Escape from Tomorrow, Disney surprisingly steered clear of attempting to sue Moore. While we may never know for certain, chances it had to do with A.) the fact that litigation would have backfired in the public eye and made Disney look bad, and B.) the movie was such a bloated, overhyped train wreck most forgot about it completely almost immediately afterward. Seriously, the number one aspect marketed for Escape From Tomorrow was “Ehrmagerd! It was illegally shot at Didney Wurl! See it before the evil boogeymen Disney lawyers steal it away before you get to see it!” It was pretty damn sad.
Either because of or in spite of the pathetic spectacle, other filmmakers have become emboldened to make their own movies at the Disney parks. After all, we are in a day and age where anyone can make a movie. What used to take millions of dollars’ worth of equipment is now available on our smartphones. The latest entry in what may become an official sub genre of “independent films made at Disney theme parks with extra DIY aesthetic”, The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head. (Which also includes 2017’s The Florida Project.)
Premiering in several film festivals, the movie was entirely crowdfunded on Kickstarter and was released on YouTube March 14 of 2019. Based on the urban legend that Walt Disney was frozen cryogenically upon his 1966 death, the film has become a trending sensation for Disney fans, particularly the hardcore ones.
The plot: Cast member Peter (Daniel Cooksley) stumbles upon the find of the ages: the eponymous frozen, yet very much alive, head of Walter Elias Disney (Ron Schneider). However, Walt hasn’t been in constant stasis: members of the board visit him three days a year to consult him on various park and studio matters. Bored and frustrated, Walt begs Peter to take him above ground to the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World.
However, Peter has some personal issues of his own, most notably trying regain a connection to his teenaged daughter, Molly (Kate Jenkins), who’s growing up faster than he’s ready to deal with.
How’s the writing?: While I hesitate to declare the writing anything award-winning, it is written competently, with a full understanding what the story is and what it’s about.
It’s kind of a nutty concept of a story that’s shot with the barest of essentials. So of course there are no grand effects or elaborate camera angles. Considering how writer/director Benjamin Lancaster had to shoot this movie inside the park as discreetly as humanly possible, it’s impressive. The jokes are well-written, and while the dramatic parts are good, there are times where the script lulls, particularly when Walt and Molly are riding the Haunted Mansion.
But at least the script has focus, a three act structure, and a consistent tone. A lot of independent films with better budgets can’t even do that.
Does it give the feels?: It does. Thanks to Lancaster, he understands that the movie couldn’t just be a wacky caper. A huge part of the movie hinges on Peter’s struggle as an estranged husband staying with his parents while trying to connect with his daughter.
It’d be so easy for some hack writer to scrawl down that she’s too into social media, thinking her dad sucks, or whatever we vilify teenage girls for, but this movie took the high road. Molly doesn’t mind spending time with her father, but she keeps him at arm’s length. She wants to go to Prague, but Peter can’t grasp his little girl doing something so…grown up. It’s not as transparent as, say, A Goofy Movie is, but it’s definitely done much more realistically. You really get where both are coming from.
Who makes it worth it?: The true star of the film is Ron Schneider as Walt. Unlike Tom Hanks from 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, you almost never get taken out of the moment believing he is Walt Disney. While he may not quite have the midwestern twang Walt was known for, he looks the part and acts the part beautifully. While charming and frank, he possesses a note of curmudgeonly gruff you’d expect. After all, not only is he a 65-year-old studio head from the golden era of Hollywood, but he is a head-sicle held captive in the sub-utilidors for 50-plus years while accountants talk his ears off about statistics and charts. And with only rough cuts of Pixar movies, grainy security camera views of the park, and no trains, he has every right to be cranky.
Ron Schneider wasn’t just a perfect casting choice. The man has spent decades performing and writing in theme park attractions, with his most famous appearance as Epcot’s DreamFinder, the charismatic host of Journey into Imagination. While he was only one of a few of the walk around performers, and the late Chuck McCann was the voice of the character on the ride, Schneider was the most famous, often seen in promos and interviews, including the early Epcot spots.
Schneider brings his all in this performance, considering he understands the theme park scene in a creative lens similar to Uncle Walt did. It’s method acting at its finest. Seriously, this man deserves at least a Golden Globe.
Best quality provided: One of the best aspects of a movie done this way is its sincerity. There’s no B.S. like big special effects or A-list celebrities to hide behind. Since it’s not backed by a major studio, it has to prove itself. It has to stand on its own as a film. So for whatever faults you find in it: say the sound mixing needs fine-tuning, the acting a bit stilted, the cinematography a bit weak…it doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is a good story is being told with very passionate people behind it, and all of them were on the hook at any moment should Disney security catch them.
What could have been improved: This movie can be a bit of a trap for Disney fans.
First, there are inside jokes galore. There are numerous references to Walt’s personal history, of course, but there are a lot of other nods that few beyond the hardcore fans would appreciate. For example, if you don’t know who Paul Pressler is and why is one of the most despised people in Disneyland history, that joke may fly right over your head. Much like Enchanted, a huge chunk of the material is referenced to things that seem exclusively pointed at cast members. But by the same token, a current or former cast member might spend a lot of time pointing out what is and isn’t accurate.
Then there’s the basic premise: Walt Disney getting to see modern-day Disney World. That sounds like something Disney fans have been wanting to hear for decades! For years, we’ve engaged in countless hypothetical debates about “What Walt would have done”, and now a movie will finally…completely sidestep the issue altogether.
Even in a cute montage, where Peter and Molly are riding everything from the Tomorrowland Speedway to the Enchanted Tiki Room, there are almost no shots of Walt’s reactions. Moreover, we don’t get to hear what his thoughts are. It feels like a huge letdown until you remember to even kind of imply that they know what Walt might have actually thought is disingenuous at best. Walt was always such a mysterious enigma that even those who worked alongside him couldn’t guess what he was thinking. So while it may be fun to put words into his mouth posthumously, even with the best of intentions, it’s a disappointing move I’m glad they made.
Verdict: This was made for a very niche market, and I’m glad it exists. It was a fun premise that worked very well in execution, and my only true complaint is I would have liked to see more, which the best kind of complaint.
Otherwise, it’s still recommended you check it out, to support these kind of independent films that need love, too. It still has a good story and is done well, just have your one Disnerd friend on standby. I give this eight long-lost Mickey dolls out of ten. To see the movie for yourself, click here to see it now!
Not bad for a “Frozen” Disney movie, eh?