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Don’t Worry, 1994’s CAMP NOWHERE Totally Holds Up…Although Not Everyone Agrees On This

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Jump onto Disney+ and enjoy Jonathan Prince’s early teen comedy that places kids at the forefront of the story and allows independence to be the culture of growth. Learning by doing/failing doesn’t match our current trend of over-parenting, but this relic agrees that over-parenting hurts more than helps a young social mind develop to its ‘potential.’ Danger is ripe around every corner, but this movie walks the line we WANT to be on, responsible kids getting a tiny bit wild with moderate adult supervision when necessary. A mild fantasy, for sure, but pleasurable to experience at any age.

I turned on Disney+ and curled up with my kids who are not in the best age range to enjoy the nuances of this story, but they loved it anyway, so who cares about recommended viewing ages when something is PG and has fireworks. We had a blast. But I experienced this on a very different level. I actually LOVED it. I loved the message. I couldn’t believe how well it held up (for the most part).

Camp Nowhere is a 1994 film directed by Jonathan Prince, written by Andrew Kurtzman and Eliot Wald, and starring Jonathan JacksonChristopher Lloyd, Melody Kay, Andrew Keegan, and Marnette Patterson. The film also features Jessica Alba in her first film role. This film is rated PG by the MPAA, this is the first family film under Disney’s Hollywood Pictures banner.

disney.fandom.com/wiki/Camp_Nowhere

You may be thinking. “Wait, do I remember which one this is?” Here are a few clues: Jonathan Jackson‘s MUD is our star kid with a lot of ideas who’s working on his social skills, Andrew Keegan‘s faux-bully ZACK has a big heart hidden behind trauma and a toxic home life, Marnette Patterson‘s Drama enthusiast TRISH puts out that popular vibe without the mean girl spirit, Melody Kay‘s unfortunately name-called GABY is the cutest little thang I’ve ever seen (I wanna go back in time and hug her little sweet face), Christopher Lloyd‘s ex-drama teacher DENNIS is that balance of jester and checked-out uncle with a secret romantic side, and Wendy Makkena‘s DR CELESTE is the perfect aunt we never knew we wanted. So, they make a fake camp and almost get away with it. A must-see in my book.

A group of junior high kids don’t want to go to summer camps chosen by their parents. They make their own adult-free camp and “hire” an ex drama teacher to help.

I didn’t find many glowing reviews online though?! I saw some fans who loved it in the past, but disagreed that it’s worth a second watch:

The Best Moments on Screen: Christopher Lloyd gives his best in every scene. Watching him act out four different roles to the parents in order to convince them to let the kids go to the ‘camp’ is brilliantly done and allows a genuinely talented and funny actor like Lloyd to shine. He throws himself into the scenes with gusto which lets the audience sit back and enjoy while the wool is pulled over the eyes of the unsuspecting parents. Much of the film rests on the shoulders of Jonathan Jackson. Morris is the center of the story and drives the plot throughout the film. Jackson does a great job at keeping the plot going, but also playing off well against Christopher Lloyd. Jackson is likeable and the audience will root for his Morris.

LaughingPlace.com, Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Camp Nowhere”

And yet LaughingPlace.com still rated it as SKIP IT. But they seemed to enjoy it. That’s what I found most places. I guess the moral of the story is that nothing will be as enjoyable when you’re a grown up with grown up thoughts.

“If you were wearing a skirt right now, I’d be in heaven.”

Zack dell

But… when I review the dialogue. It does get pretty gross. HOWEVER, other characters do actually address those issues. So, we can’t hold it against the movie!

Here‘s what you do: get lost! Disappear into the woods for five or six hours. When you show up they’ll be so glad you haven’t been eaten by bears, they’ll forget the other stuff!”

denniz van welker

Ok, maybe this movie was legit written by middle-schoolers at some points. I still loved it.

I find it fun to look up what MovieGuide has to say about my childhood favs. They gave this film 2/4 stars and a negative 3 for excessive worldview problems. Which I guess I saw coming.

Content: (NA, LL, SS, A, FR, M) Contemporary, valueless Paganism; 3 obscenities, 7 profanities & 9 vulgarities; 2 sexual innuendoes, implied use of pornography by adolescents, 2 scenes of kissing between 14-year-olds & implied fornication by adults; purchase of beer by minor condoned by adult & wine use at dinner without abuse; pagan dance by children around bonfire & eastern religion portrayed with shadow puppets; children lie to parents, show disrespect for parents & grandparents; and, overall message saying that if children stick together they can escape consequences from breaking law & disobeying parents.

movieguide.org

A much better breakdown of what to be concerned about comes from Commonsense.org (recommending for 11 years old and older)…. They aren’t as hard hitting as MovieGuide.

WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW: Parents need to know that this film shows boys bullying others both physically and verbally, a girl is harassed by her mother for being overweight, kids lie to their parents, and there are many scenes of sexually suggestive behavior. The film does tackle important topics that are relatable to burgeoning adolescents about physical changes in the body and relationships with parents and peers.

commonsense.org

But let’s talk tropes, the very thing that stops us from enjoying a childhood film to its fullest is the recognition of tropes that may not have been considered as such way back when. They may have even been signs of a good script back in the day with limited representation in power positions at studios and lack of awareness for the limited experience of some white male writers. CAMP NOWHERE is FULL of tropes. Which isn’t always a bad thing, just something fun to look over and acknowledge.

This film contains examples of (Edited excerpt taken directly from TVtropes.com):

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Trish and Zack are an item by the end of the film.
  • Bad “Bad Acting”: The kids who perform for the fake theater camp.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Everyone thanks Mud and Dennis for a great summer, neither one gets arrested, and Polk gets paid off. But it’s right after the scheme falls apart completely, all the kids get sent home, and Mud gets grounded for a LONG time.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian / Hippie Teacher: Dennis. When Feln tells them that the camp used to be a hippie commune, Dennis suddenly remembers having been there before.
  • Chekhov’s Gun:
    • The 5:15 flyby from the nearby Air Force base later comes in handy during the phony Parents’ Day.
    • The broken down car that the kids find and Zack fixes becomes Dennis’ new car.
  • Cool Loser: Mud, though a lot of it has to do with his self-confidence.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Zack’s modus operandi.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Trish.
  • Dumb Blonde: Trish is this trope encapsulated. She’s an actress, spends her summer money on clothes at the mall, says that the mistake on Zack’s fake ID means it’s actually a decade earlier, and tops off with this:after Mud, Gaby, and Zack say they are “smart enough to act stupid “Trish: Yeah, and I’m stupid too!”
  • Education Mama: Mud’s dad is a rare male version. He’s constantly opining that Mud “has potential,” and keeps pushing Mud to grow up early. Mud complains that his dad treats him like he’s unemployed. Mud is 12.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: You could argue that Gaby is Sanguine, Trish is Choleric, Zack is Melancholic, and Mud is Phlegmatic.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Dennis for Celeste. Though calling Dennis a “hero”, considering his actions, is a bit of a stretch.
  • Heroic BSoD: Mud has one when he realizes he’s becoming a killjoy like his parents. Gaby snaps him out of it by telling him that he’s better than he thinks he is.
  • I Am Spartacus: When the scheme is blown, all the other kids stand up and take responsibility.
  • Male Gaze: Zack to Trish as she walks up to him sitting on the floor: “You know if you were wearing a skirt right now, I’d be in heaven.”
    • Trish is also the only teen girl to wear a bikini for some reason.
    • And Mud pretty blatantly checks out her butt when they are leaving camp. And then does it again even after Gaby hits him for it.
  • Military School: It’s where Zack usually gets sent, since he’s a delinquent and all.
  • Only in It for the Money: Dennis only agrees to help out during the rainy day when Mud offers him a bribe of $200. Dennis later bribes Mud $1 for every lima bean he eats at the dinner with Celeste.
    • However, subverted earlier in the film, Dennis pays Mud’s medical expenses out of his own pocket and refuses reimbursement.
  • Porn Stash: Arnold packs a suitcase full of Playpen magazines.
  • Right on the Tick: Pineview Air Force Base’s daily 5:15 flyby. Feln mentions that it’s something that’s missed when it doesn’t happen, and it eventually becomes plot-crucial.
  • Stage Mom: Trish’s mom.
  • Token Romance: Dennis/Celeste, Zack/Trish, and Mud/Gaby.
  • Voiceover Letter: Mud’s letter home to his parents is mostly this, with some parts being read by his father.

Of course, it is dated in many ways. In fact, THIS trailer here is how it was advertised!!

Even after some hefty evidence that it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be according to others, I can’t help but agree with… YESTERDAYSMOVIES.COM

The thought occurred to me that this could be coming of age, but I didn’t think it was a premise that lent itself to that very well. But the second act very strongly shows the kids maturing by necessity, learning who they are when nobody tells them who to be, and stumbling into some hard lessons. Dennis is just Mud’s mentor, but a lot of the other kids grow more than Mud does, all on their own. It’s really well-crafted storytelling….This movie deserves more than the obscurity and poor reception it seems to have gotten. It’s no classic at the level of something like Stand By Me, but it accomplishes everything it sets out to, and it does so maybe a little more than competently. This is worth seeing at least once, or maybe becoming someone’s comfort watch movie.

temporalparadox, YesterdaysMovies.com

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Jennica Schwartzman, Managing Partner at Purpose Pictures Productions, Co-Founder of Little Sister Entertainment, and a member of The Producers Guild of America, SAG/AFTRA, and Moms-In-Film LA, loves tackling a project from idea to distribution as a multi-hyphenate actress-writer-producer. Jennica has been published in the Producers Guild Magazine "Produced By," Legacy Arts Magazine, Paragon Road, Bustle, and she is a guest writer for the acclaimed entertainment industry websites MsInTheBiz.com, FilmmakingStuff.com, Artemis Motion Pictures' #WomenKickAss Forum, and WomenandHollywood.com. She has been invited to speak on film festival panels and is a workshop teacher for The International Family Film Festival's Road Scholars intergenerational filmmaking camp. Jennica has produced ten feature film releases. Jennica and her husband /producing partner /writing partner Ryan have two kiddos and reside in Hollywood.

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