Saccharine was invented so we'd have an adjective to describe 'Camp Rock.' But Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers do manage to deliver a bit of nutrition along with the, uh, camp.
I've never lied.
OK, that's not completely true. But I've never lied to you, dear reader. Unless you happen to be one of my parents. Or my sister. Or my editor, who I told last Tuesday I couldn't come into work because I had contracted leprosy (innocent mistake—it turned out to be just a rash). Or if you're just a sadistic stickler for details and count the first paragraph of this article as an actual lie instead of poetic hyperbole.
The point is, I know lying is bad. You do, too. But let's face it: It can be really tempting to tell one, even when it's wrong and sinful and complicates your life something fierce.
Such is the temptation faced by Mitchie, the obligatory damsel in distress found in Camp Rock, Disney Channel's new High School Musical wannabe.
Campy as They Come
Camp Rock is, as camps go, pretty posh. There appear to be no mosquitoes or chiggers to speak of, no cockroaches, outhouses or rustic cabins equipped with triple-stacked bunk beds. No, this place looks more like a trendy teen resort than a summer camp—a fitting retreat for the well-heeled musical prodigies who attend. These kids have it all: bim, bam and bling.
Mitchie's been blessed with a vivacious voice and killer smile, but she's not as well-to-do as most of her fellow campers. In fact, the only reason she gets to go to camp at all is because her mother's the caterer. Not too glamorous, particularly when Tess—the camp's resident queen bee—boasts a superstar mom who, every time she wins a Grammy, buys her daughter a charm for her charm bracelet. Blingalicious, as they say at camps such as this.
To infiltrate Tess' oh-so-cool diva clique, Mitchie brags that her mother is the president of a major entertainment company in China. Never mind that her real mother is right there at camp and that Mitchie helps her in the kitchen. She still manages (for a while) to hide her family ties and becomes one of Tess' favorite friends—a participant in all of Tess' oversized ambitions and target for her petty jealousies.
Ah, the price of popularity.
A Regular Joe (Jonas)?
But Tess isn't necessarily the biggest pill in camp. Early on, that honor falls to Shane Gray (Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers), a petulant pop star who's atoning for bad behavior by teaching a few camp classes. For him, Camp Rock is like rehab—the one you go to if you're addicted to your own awesomeness.
"I've learned my lesson," he wails over the cell phone to his bandmates (fellow Jonas Brothers Kevin and Nick). "I've showered in cold water. I've looked at a tree. It's been three hours. I need hair product."
Mitchie and Shane meet, of course, and the weirdness of the camp scene recedes somewhat as Mitchie quickly colors in Shane's shades of gray with pastel blushes (!) of happiness. She helps turn Shane from a self-obsessed celebrity into a kinder, gentler human being, and she even encourages him to divert from that "stupid cookie-cutter pop star stuff" and explore new musical horizons: essentially stupid cookie-cutter pop star stuff played with an acoustic guitar.
"It's good," she says, hearing Shane's newest gushy song. "It's really good. And I don't lie."
She says this without a trace of irony—an understated (perhaps even unintended) statement on how we can lie to ourselves, too.
The story wraps with a happily-ever-after ending, but it's how we get there that's more encouraging. The most violent act is a food fight. The coarsest words are "gosh" and "butt." Clothes are modest, and the big couple in camp doesn't even kiss. While there's some hip-hop-inspired shaking of the hip, so to speak, it's not significantly more provocative than what'd be found at your average 1960s "twist" party.
More importantly, everybody learns something. Shane decides he—and everyone around him—is (are) happier when he's not a jerk. Tess puts her jealousy aside and celebrates the success of others. And Mitchie? She learns that lying is a really, really bad idea. Mitchie's mom is shown as a positive influence, and we even get a hint that Tess' awfulness is spurred by the fact that her mother's never around.
"Aimed at kids who feel themselves unrecognized and invisible, which is to say practically all of them, [Camp Rock] exhorts viewers to be themselves," writes Robert Lloyd of the L.A Times.
All of which means that Camp Rock is good. It's really good.
OK, I'm lying. Again. As a film, Camp Rock is a rung-and-a-half below the High School Musical juggernaut. The songs are forgettable. The plot is predictable. Saccharin is spooned on with a shovel. And Meaghan Jette Martin's dour-faced Tess can't compare to Ashley Tisdale's delightfully obsessive HSM villainess, Sharpay.
But the show does sport the Jonas Brothers in all their mussy-haired charm, along with the likeable Demi Lovato. It lives up to its billing as family-friendly entertainment. And it delivers exactly what its young target audience both hopes for and expects from Disney: a compelling morality play served with a light, bright touch.
In truth, it's fitting Disney went to camp for its latest tween twirl. Camp Rock is very sweet, a little sticky and it'll have its young viewers hollering for s'more. Who knew that those campfire confections could be a little bit nutritious as well?