Mitchie Torres (Demi Lovato) is an aspiring singer-songwriter who, though painfully shy, dreams of going to Camp Rock, a summer school for talented young things. Unable to afford tuition fees, Mitchie’s mother Connie (Maria Canals Barrera) arranges to cater food for the camp so her daughter can attend, a secret Mitchie endeavours to hide from the other kids including snooty and spiteful Tess Tyler (Meaghan Jette Martin) and friendly dance DJ Caitlyn Gellar (Alyson Stoner). Meanwhile, managers force spoiled brat pop star Shane Gray (Joe Jonas) to return to Camp Rock and learn some humility after his off-stage antics annoy fans and his band-mates Nate (Nick Jonas) and Jason (Kevin Jonas). While outside a window, Shane hears Mitchie singing but when he enters the room she has gone. In love with her beautiful voice, Shane resolves to uncover the identity of this mystery girl.
Where is all the glitter, feather boas and androgynous sexuality? Oh right, it’s not that kind of Camp Rock. Disney followed the unexpected world-conquering success of High School Musical (2005) with this happy-clappy tween rock version of Cinderella which doubled as both a vehicle for reigning teen idols the Jonas Brothers and introduced their newest singing-sensation Demi Lovato, who has since gone on to great success. Movies like this and the HSM series are problematic for adults to assess given they are rooted in adolescent themes and concerns that most will have long since outgrown and now seem trivial at best or else utterly alien. Like the Beach Party movies of the 1960s or John Hughes’ MTV-influenced teen comedies of the 1980s, they are resolutely of their time, though occasionally one movie does transcend its limitations and achieves a certain timelessness.
Camp Rock is not one such breakout movie, but as an example of wholesome tween entertainment has been assembled with precision care and certainly goes down well with its target audience. Anyone who has ever seen a high school movie or Disney cartoon will recognise the plot’s over-familiar epithets like never be ashamed of who you are, always value true friends above the in-crowd, and finding self-confidence within. While evidently sincere, screenwriters Julie and Paul Brown, Karin Gist and Regina Hicks do seem to be ticking boxes rather than crafting a potent teen allegory. That said the young characters are driven by emotions or personal problems instead of classed as merely good or bad, and the script displays an admirable willingness to forgive rather than dole out comeuppances. By the story’s end one does feel as if we’ve come to understand everyone better.
With the exception of Shane and Mitchie’s climactic duet on “This Is Me”, the music is sadly anaemic for anyone over the age of fourteen. Which is a shame really, since Disney has assembled quite a sprightly and talented young cast. As well as headliners Jonas and Lovato, songbird Meaghan Jette Martin, dance diva Allyson Stoner and vivacious Anna Maria Perez de Taglé - who later starred in the remake of Fame (2009) - all seize their moment in the spotlight. At the risk of being bludgeoned to death by hordes of teenage girls, one has to say the Jonas brothers are a long way from being the best actors in the world. However, they do exhibit a certain flair for wacky, Monkees-style humour, something their subsequent sitcom expanded to agreeable effect.
If nothing else, at least Camp Rock gave the world Demi Lovato. Blessed with a set of killer pipes, a winning smile and zestful comic timing, Lovato energises even the most banal of scenes and against all odds proves a heart can beat inside a carefully calculated Disney package.