Before watching the movie:
How did I not know about this movie until right now? It came out in the mid-90s with Disney backing and it’s about put-upon fat camp kids taking over the camp. Why was I not all over this as a kid? Where was the hype?
Sure, it’s hardly a tentpole movie. Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow are the biggest names on it, and both near the beginning of their careers. I don’t expect it to be to modern standards of body positivity, but how often do you see the plump kids as the heroes?
After watching the movie:
Gerry Garner gets talked into going to Camp Hope, a weight loss summer camp, through the promotional video showing cool activities like go-karting and the awe-inspiring floating giant inflatable Blob. Arriving, he quickly learns from the regulars that the camp is a really fun and friendly place where you don’t get picked on for being the fat kid because everyone’s the fat kid. However, Gerry’s dreams of awesome summer fun are crushed when the elderly couple who have owned the camp for decades announce that they had to sell it to Tony Perkis, a hyper-merchandised self-help huckster who wants to use the camp to produce a weight loss video demonstrating his patented fitness plan. Tony rules with an iron fist and turns the camp into hell, bringing in a gang of athletic musclebound bullies for counselors, overworking and humiliating the boys and raiding their stash of contraband snacks. Gerry and Pat, the counselor who came to Camp Hope as a kid and never left, realize they have to get everyone to work together to fight back against the Perkisizing regime, but they have somewhat different ideas how.
Spending all summer at camp was never even an option when I grew up. As I got older, day camps became overnight camps became weekend camps, and eventually I’d worked up to a full week, maybe two weeks, I can’t remember. Spending such short periods there, it was basically impossible to make the kind of lasting friendships shown in summer camp movies, especially with my social difficulties. However, I did do two summers at a camp for kids with special respiratory needs that approached the sense of instant fraternity of what Camp Hope was presented as: everybody’s got the same shortcoming, and nobody gets called out on theirs because everyone understands. This movie does very well at tapping into the bonding that occurs among outcasts given their own space together.
When every character is the fat character, they likewise get to be defined by their other traits. Very rarely is anyone a victim of the usual buffoonish pratfalls heavy characters are often props in. The main place this falls apart in is when made to compete in sporting events with Camp MVP, and it turns out the boys of Camp Hope are uncoordinated and clumsy. A lot of that can legitimately come from never being encouraged to hone any physical skills and instead being taught to fear such activities.
There seem to be a high number of montages in this movie, which might be mostly a function of condensing weeks into an hour and a half, but also trades away a lot of opportunity to be more specific about some things. Near the end, some clips of specific incidents previously glossed over that are more effective at telling how bad things were under Perkis.
The message of accepting who you are and taking the responsibility for yourself freshens a kid underdog plot that’s been told a lot in the 80s and 90s. The kids are kids, but they’re fat kids who get to be kids.