Walt Disney World may seem like a family-friendly fantasyland where every unclean impulse is carefully controlled, but lurking literally beneath guests’ feet is an underground world of sex, drugs and debauchery. That’s the idea behind Leonard Kinsey’s best-selling 2011 guidebook, The Dark Side of Disney
, which detailed ways to get into the parks for free, get high, get off and get back out, hopefully without being caught and sent to Disney Jail. The book has now inspired a documentary by the same name, which had its Florida premiere Nov. 14 in Gods & Monsters at Artegon Marketplace on International Drive.
The event kicked off with a costume contest – which was won by a Walt Disney look-alike – and an autograph session with the film’s creators and cast. In attendance were film director-producer Phillip B. Swift (who also created “The Bubble,” a documentary about Celebration) and author Kinsey, along with artist Dave Ensign and legendary Disney performer Ron Schneider. Also on hand were theater director Jeremy Seghers, who is staging A Public Reading of an Unpublished Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney
with John DiDonna next week at Orlando Shakes; Benjamin Lancaster, creator of the upcoming film The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head
; and videoblogging celebrities Tim and Jenn Tracker.
The documentary itself is structured around Swift’s 2014 vacation to Walt Disney World, which he takes with the intention of attempting as many of Kinsey’s illicit suggestions as possible. His very pregnant wife sends him off with the warning that she doesn’t mind if he goes to jail, as long as he’s home in time for the delivery, which is more understanding than most spouses would be under the circumstances.
photo by Seth Kubersky
This Walt Disney look-alike won the costume contest.
The film’s highlights come from the colorful characters that Swift hooks up with in Central Florida, like Logan “Raptor” Feinsinger, a wiry kid with a copious capacity for cannabis who steals the movie’s second half. The documentary’s other star is Dave “Hoot Gibson” Ensign, a former Disney cast member who documented his backstage adventures with late pal Ed “The Chief” Barlow in his “Ward Dizzley
” series of comic books. Barlow leads Swift on a tour of Disney’s back roads and shares video of his unauthorized expeditions into Epcot’s extinct Horizons ride, while delivering the film’s best line with his advice on blending in with employees when sneaking backstage: “Just act like you’re supposed to be there. Act like you hate life.”
Speaking of Epcot, there’s great footage in there for fans of the park’s original Epcot Center incarnation, like a visit to the the sadly abandoned Imageworks interactive attraction inside the Imagination pavilion. And if you’ve always wondered what the Magic Kingdom’s famed Utilidors look like (answer: a run-down suburban mall) this documentary includes the clearest images I’ve seen.
Between the boozing and breaking and entering, the film interweaves interviews with serious (if unconventional) Disney fans, which serve to soften the salaciousness and tip the tone toward sweet sentimentality. In the opening segment, the director’s mother, a cancer survivor, explains why she dumped her mom’s ashes in Cinderella Castle’s moat; later, a posse of “Pinup Pixies” primps for a day at Disneyland, making that resort’s motorcycle gang-styled social clubs look more like Dapper Day.
As much as I enjoyed the material in Dark Side of Disney
, the editing could stand a few tweaks. Though the film doesn’t dwell on the how-to’s of rule-breaking to the extent the book does, for balance I wish it included another warning or two about being caught by Mickey’s security and banned for life. Much of the last act is dominated by an over-long “Drink Around the World” sequence, which will be uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has been intoxicated at World Showcase. And the ending suffers from “Return of the King” syndrome, with too many false finale fadeouts and indulgent slow-motion shots.
During the post-screening Q&A, the creators surprisingly said that they hadn’t had any official blowback so far from Disney’s lawyers, and are still allowed into the parks despite rumors of being on a “BOLO” blacklist. In fact, Swift says Disney should pay him money for the guests who otherwise would never have spent money at the Mouse if not for seeing his work. I wouldn’t cash that check quite yet, but this doc should be required viewing for jaded Disney junkies jonesing for a vicarious adrenaline rush.