The kids, a wise man once said, are alright. "Camp Rock" is our introduction to a handful of fantastic young talents, young and bright and absolutely natural for the screen. There are the Jonas Brothers, of course, the popular boy band making the next step in their campaign to rule teen culture. Then there is Demi Lovato, she of giant smile, infectious charm, and surprisingly sharp comic timing. And Alyson Stoner, who brings a hip appeal to the best friend role. And so on, and so on.
What we need to do, then, is take these kids and airlift them out of "Camp Rock," moving them safely to a movie more deserving of their talents. For "Camp Rock" is a lazy movie coasting on Disney Channel cliché, as if the filmmakers assumed a massive audience was a sure bet, so why bother making anything good? As we stumble our way through familiar set-ups and half-baked pay-offs, we realize the only thing keeping this mess afloat is the charisma of its stars.
Lovato stars as everyday gal Mitchie Torres, a young singer-songwriter whose stage fright makes her an unlikely candidate for Camp Rock, a summer camp for aspiring teen divas. It seems she wants to be the next superstar but also hates singing in front of people, which suggests logic fell apart when the screenplay was being tossed around between its four writers. No matter. Mitchie is able to attend the camp on a discount since her mother (Maria Canals-Barrera) is the camp's caterer. But in a poorly thought out decision to try to fit in with the bratty rich kids, Mitchie lies, telling them her mom runs an overseas version of MTV.
The queen bee of the bratty rich kids is Tess (Meaghan Jette Martin). It's never clear why Mitchie would want to be Tess' friend, especially since Tess makes no effort to hide her snobbish villainy. Tess isn't so much a person as she is a walking plot point - her job is to get in the way, expose Mitchie's secret, kickstart other various late-story elements. If "Camp Rock" is intended to be heir to the "High School Musical" throne, then let's compare its bad girls: Sharpay was vibrant in her wickedness, Ashley Tisdale creating a sort of diva devil that earned every minute of her screen time, and then some; Martin has a definite screen presence, to be sure, but Tess, as written, is too much of a blank for the performance to ever matter. Sharpay got sassy, catchy numbers like "Fabulous"; Tess delivers unmemorable pop tunes like "2 Stars," a song so bland in its poppiness, it may have been penned by assembly line. (A too-late, one-scene effort to soften Tess up and round out her character feels too tacked on and undeserved. Another "HSM" wannabe, MTV's "American Mall," handles a very similar bad-girl-wises-up situation much more solidly.)
In between Mitchie and Tess comes Shane Gray (Joe Jonas), lead singer of a famous all-brother pop group. (Kevin and Nick Jonas cameo in a few scenes as the rest of the band.) It's the acting equivalent of training wheels - Jonas and his brothers are essentially play themselves - but it works. The brothers reveal a breezy appeal that fits well with the Disney multitasking superstar mold. They seem comfortable stepping into acting (especially Kevin and Nick, who clown around with ease, perhaps enjoying the fact that they don't have to handle any on-screen romantic duties, unlike Joe, who looks lost in the more serious moments yet lightens up to great effect when the scene calls for a musical touch).
Shane is a Camp Rock alumnus who made it big, and now reluctantly returns as a celebrity teacher. At first, this premise allows Joe Jonas to mock his celebrity status; Shane is introduced as a egocentric, pampered buffoon reluctant to deal with the masses. But then that cluttered, sloppy script forgets where it was going, and Shane suddenly becomes just an ordinary guy. It's like the movie's not even trying.
The rest of the movie plays out predictably: Shane overhears Mitchie singing and falls in love with the voice; Mitchie has to hide the fact that she works in the camp's kitchen; Tess schemes to break up Shane and Mitchie by exposing Mitchie's lies (and, later, framing her for theft); everyone preps for the big final concert; Mitchie overcomes her stage fright.
It's Disney storytelling by numbers, with no surprises, no effort, no spirit. But the movie is more interested in the music, so much so that a good half of the running time is spent ignoring the plot and focusing on performances. Shane and his brothers give an impromptu concert. Campers perform at open mic shows. And the summer-ending concert, dubbed "Final Jam," fills up an entire half hour - a third of the movie.
These are, for the most part, good performances (the Mitchie-Shane Final Jam duet is especially enjoyable), but unlike "HSM," which carried the energy of its music into its flimsier straight scenes, the music of "Camp Rock" isn't enough to bolster the rest of the picture. This is a movie that sleepwalks through its story, delivering the bare minimum, so certain that the soundtrack will be a best-seller that there's no need to focus on character or plot.
Indeed, "Camp Rock" was pre-sold to Disney fans as the Next Big Thing, and the studio's marketing blitz worked, raking in 8.9 million viewers for its June premiere. (And yes, a "Camp Rock 2" is already in the works.) But its lifeless story and flat, cheap sitcom tone ultimately make it a bust, no matter how large the numbers. There's a terrific cast but nothing for them to do but waddle through your average Disney Channel Original Movie blandness. Dare we call this "Camp Schlock"?
"Camp Rock" arrives on disc in an "Extended Rock Star Edition." This adds a new scene and new musical number ("Our Time Is Here") not shown in the broadcast version; the scene is an epilogue that's rather inelegantly tacked on after the fade-out of the original final scene.
Like most Disney discs, this one is programmed with their "Fast Play" instant play feature.
Video & Audio
Like all recent DCOMs, "Camp Rock" looks crisp and clean, if a bit too sitcom-cheap. Colors are bright and clear, with sharp detail and no digital interference. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame broadcast format.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is lively and solid, as expected. There's not much use for the surround feature, as most of the action remains up front (best approximating a stereo broadcast sound). Dialogue is never overwhelmed by the music. English SDH subtitles are included.
Two music videos - for "Start the Party" (1:33) and the movie's worst song, the grating "We Rock" (2:18) - mix movie clips with generic dance scenes. Strangely, both are presented in a 1.33:1 format windowboxed to fill a widescreen frame.
"Sing Along with the Movie" allows you to jump to any or all of the movie's musical scenes, which you can watch as-is or with karaoke-style subtitles. "Camp Rock Karaoke" offers the same scenes and karaoke subtitles, but this time with a music-only, no-dialogue soundtrack. (As such, the entire movie features a second music-and-effects-only audio track, in case you want to watch the whole thing like that. Just use the "audio" button on your remote.) As all are direct clips from the movie, all are presented in 1.33:1 full frame.
"How to Be a Rock Star" (27:54) is an overlong 10-part collection of on-set footage and cast and crew interviews in which everyone discusses how to sing, dress, dance, behave, practice, and yes, even network like a rock star. It's all generic advice, stuff like "learn as much as you can" and "practice." It's a whole lot of nothing without a point, really.
"Jonas Brothers: Real Life Rock Stars" (15:44) uses interviews with the brothers themselves to recap the history of the band, their quick rise to fame, and what life's like for them now. They also comment on the movie, namely Joe's admitted lack of dancing know-how.
"Introducing Demi Lovato" (5:40) finds Disney's newest star discussing her character and her time on the "Camp Rock" set.
"Camp Memories" (5:49) is a slideshow of photos taken on the set (many by the young cast themselves) mixed with behind-the-scenes footage. A couple of the movie's songs play underneath the video.
"Hasta la Vista: From Rehearsals to Final Jam" (4:54) reveals more behind-the-scenes clips, this time of the rehearsals for and filming of the hip hop number that appears during Final Jam. Co-stars Jordan Francis and Roshon Fegan crack wise as walk us through the material.
"Too Cool: Setting the Scene" (3:37) is the same sort of thing, this time with co-star Anna Maria Perez de Tagle explaining the filming of the "Too Cool" scene.
Except where noted, all extras are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and include optional English SDH subtitles.
The usual batch of Disney previews rounds out the set; some of those previews also play as the disc loads.
Fans of the movie will be pleased with the solid transfer and multiple extras, and as such, they should go ahead and pick up this disc. But newcomers expecting a repeat of "High School Musical" will be slightly disappointed, as this movie gets mired in Disney Channel sitcom trappings that waste a delightful cast. To them, I say Rent It.