- Director: Matthew Diamond
- Written by: Paul Brown, Julie Brown, Karin Gist, Regina Hicks
- Running Time: 90 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: G - General Audiences
- Cast: Demi Lovato, Joe Jonas, Alyson Stoner, Nick Jonas, Paul Kevin Jonas, Meaghan Jette Martin, Maria Canals-Barrera, Jasmine Richards, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Aaryn Doyle, Jake Brockman, Daniel Fathers, Roshon Fegan, Jordan Francis, Sarah Francis, Jennifer Ricci, Anjelica Scannura, Jason Seitz, Brenda Song, Giovanni Spina
It was pretty clear from all the advertising for “Camp Rock” the last few months that the folks at Disney were hoping to recapture some of that magic they had with their surprise 2006 hit “High School Musical”, a made-for-television film that was so successful that it garnered two Primetime Emmys, made household names of much of its then-unknown cast and spawned a couple of sequels, one of which landed a theatrical release. While “Camp Rock” had a lot to live up to, it was pretty obvious that the Disney execs were going to milk it for all it’s worth, regardless of its critical reception. I have to admit, after all the hype I too was curious to see if Disney could indeed evoke the HSM spirit, while conjuring up something original. Now figuring out if the critics would like it is a no-brainer. The answer was, well, of course not. Movies like this are beneath them, something they made clear in their mostly negative reviews for HSM. The same thing is happening with "Camp Rock", it seems. Early reviews for the film contain the same kind of condescending tone. Bandying around words like “inauthentic” and “unclear morals” might make them feel superior to the film’s target audience -- you know, the kids, it sadly does little to explain what a joy this film is to watch. Granted, it took four writers to complete the script and the lead actress, Demi Lovato smiles a lot, but who cares? Certainly not me and certainly not anyone tuning in to see this movie.
Okay with that out of the way, let me just go on the record and say that I actually enjoyed “Camp Rock” even more than “High School Musical”. I can hear the folks now screaming “blasphemer” and calling for my head but I don’t care, I thought this film was a sweet coming of age story backed up with some great music and cool dance numbers. Yeah, it’s predictable, yeah, the ending is a little too neat and tidy and yeah, they recycle various plot points from HSM, as well as Cinderella and Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” but I thought it all added up to some fine entertainment. I’m not about to apologize for liking it. With the inclusion of the popular boy band, the Jonas Brothers, this film will most assuredly appeal to young females but overtime, I'm sure it will find a larger audience.
Mitchie Torres (Demi Lovato) lives, breaths and sleeps music, which explains why she is so heartbroken when her planned summer vacation to a prestigious rock camp, a sort of training ground for wannabe rock stars, is suddenly called off. Her parent’s indecisive economic situation (a subtle nod to the current recession, I’m thinking) has made it all but impossible for them to pay for the trip, well that is until her chef mother (Maria Canals-Barrera) negotiates with the camp’s owner to be hired on as the head cook. On the stipulation that she helps her mom out in the kitchen, Mitchie is soon venturing off for a vacation in the country she won’t soon forget. Her arrival plays out as a typical fish-out-of-water story, with Mitchie quickly becoming aware of the camp’s social hierarchy, as well as the notion that most, if not all of the kids at the camp, are wealthy, something she clearly is not. Sensing how lost she is, another camp regular, the sweet and grounded Caitlyn (Alyson Stoner), befriends Mitchie, bestowing her with words of advice and caution namely in regards to a group of popular girls lead by Tess Tyler (Meaghan Jette Martin). Despite Caitlyn’s warnings, Mitchie wants to be apart of the camp’s hip clique and before long she’s scheming her way in. Tess, backed up by her equally snobby friends Peggy (Jasmine Richards) and Ella (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle), seem to epitomize the Paris-like shallowness that people find so enticing of late. It's understandable why Mitchie, a surprisingly mature young lady, would want to be in with them. Well, not really. Anyways, after insinuating that her mother is the President of Hot TunesTV in China, Tess reluctantly accepts Mitchie into her circle, a decision she soon regrets. When a diva-like male pop star, Shane Gray (Joe Jonas – of the Jonas Brothers), arrives at the camp to work as an instructor, punishment by his record label for his most recent public tantrum, the two ladies are quickly competing for his affections.
Interestingly, the rebellious Gray is also searching for something, or rather, somebody. While being chased by a slew of crazed female admirers, Gray seeks solace in some bushes. Hidden away, he overhears some beautiful music emanating from a nearby cabin and it inspires him in a big way. Sadly, he never gets to see the girl attached to that voice, as she skips out just seconds before he enters. Motivated by the unseen girl’s music, Gray is finally able to harness his one-man rebellion against music commercialism, by re-discovering his own artistic voice, something he lost sight of along the way to stardom. Gray also spends much of the film searching for the girl who sang in the cabin, even writing a duet for her. It’s a metaphor, yeah, but it works and the film’s climax, involving the duet playing out as it is meant to be, is sweet. While Gray undergoes his search, Mitchie too finds herself on a quest, commencing when Tess publically ousts her and ending with her discovering something about herself that is deeper and more meaningful – one that speaks to the film’s main ‘very clear’ message of always staying true to you. As if by fate or coincidence, Shane and Mitchie find themselves increasingly in each other’s company. Shane is smug and rude and Mitchie is unimpressed, and their initial meeting is contentious and ends with the two hurling insults at each other. Overtime, Shane finds himself gravitating toward the level-headed young lady and before you know it, they are connecting romantically, something articulated in sweet subtle glances and some witty banter. Will they end up making sweet music together? Um, yeah, you know they will. And speaking of the musical side of things, “Camp Rock” delivers tenfold. The film is laced with catchy songs, some of which could evolve into genuine megahits. Although I’m not really a fan of the Jonas Brother’s music, it did have energy and helped to pump up the film. Demi Lovato, on the other hand, has an absolutely beautiful voice and could probably sing the pants off any one of current post-teen artists currently filling up the radio stations. Renee Sandstrom’s ‘Here I Am’ (lip-synched by Jasmine Richards, or at least I think she lip-synched it?) is possibly the film’s most defining tune.
Mostly unknown Demi Lovato (2008's "Princess Protection Program") as Mitchie Torres, is easily next in line to topple Miley Cyrus who, with her odd antics of late, is already sabotaging her own career. Lovato ia not only adorable, she has a wicked, toothy smile that brightens up every frame of film in which she appears. She’s also a pretty fine actress, as well as singer, as evidenced by the three songs she sung. In fact, the film could have used some more Lovato songs, but alas, I’ll wait for the sequel. As I said earlier, this girl’s star is on the rise. The Jonas Brothers, Joe, Nick and Paul Kevin, were used to sell the film but in reality, only one of them figures into the film in a big way. The other two are used sparingly or merely to garner a laugh. Joe Jonas as Shane Gray shows that he can act, however, he seems to be grimacing his way through many of the earlier scenes and for the most part, he’s rather emotionless. His scenes opposite Lovato do sparkle to life, a sort of recognition of the obvious chemistry that he had with his co-star.
Meaghan Jette Martin (2008's "Privileged") as Tess Tyler seems to have taken cues from Rachel McAdams turn in “Mean Girls” and it shows. She is as despicable as they come as far as movie villains go but, interestingly, the writers choose to give her mostly-one note character some flavour by shining a light at her tumultuous home life, even garnering her a hint of sympathy. Alyson Stoner (2003's "Cheaper By The Dozen") as Caitlyn proves one of the more interesting characters in the film, while providing Lovato's Torres with a moral compass for which to gauge her actions. Anna Maria Perez de Tagle (2008's "A Forgotten Innocence") and Jasmine Richards (2005's "Devotion") round out the main cast, and neither have much to do in their under-written roles, minus being relentlessly stifled by their more overbearing friend. Even though Richards spends much of the film making faces, I have to admit, it was great to see this Canadian talent taking center stage at film’s end after years of playing second fiddle on various Canadian-lensed television shows and movies. Way to go Jasmine. I was a little surprised to see her character factor into the ending the way she did, especially since so little time is devoted to layering her. Her victory feels slightly hollow, but alas, what can you do? Again, way to go Jasmine. Also look for Julie Brown of "Clueless" fame, who helped co-write the film and for whom pops up periodically to remind us that at least one Hollywood Heavyweight is involved in the project.
All in all, the film achieves what it was going for; it’s an entertaining musical, complete with an appealing story, affable characters and a cool soundtrack. Seriously, how can you go wrong? Considering that Disney will probably play this film on an endless loop til the end of Christmas 2008, or at least until "Camp Rock 2" is released, it's a safe bet to say that everyone will have a chance to see this film.