Two years after their fateful meeting at Camp Rock (2008), sunny singer-songwriter Michie Torres (Demi Lovato), her rock star boyfriend Shane Grey (Joe Jonas) and his band mates Nate (Nick Jonas) and Jason (Kevin Jonas) return for another summer at the camp for musically gifted kids. The gang reunite with old friends, dance diva Caitlin Gellar (Alyson Stoner), ditzy singer Ella (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle) and last time's "final jam" winner Peggy (Jasmine Richards), while Michie is delighted to discover the once mean-spirited Tess Tyler (Meaghan Jette Martin) has mellowed. Their joy is short lived, for the friends discover a rival camp has opened across the lake.
Camp Star is a flashy, megabucks resort with gourmet catering, a king-sized stadium and legions of fame hungry showbiz brats. Led by the arrogant but undeniably talented Luke Williams (Matthew 'Mdot' Finlay), Camp Star put on a show at the meet-and-greet organised by head honcho Axel Turner leaving the poor, cash strapped Camp Rock kids slack jawed with awe, although Shane can't help falling for charismatic keyboard prodigy Dana (Chloe Bridges), who happens to be Axel's daughter. Camp Rock guru Brown Cesario (Daniel Fathers) suspects his ex-bandmate is up to no good and is proven right when Axel poaches all of Camp Rock's staff and Tess too!
With Camp Rock on the verge of collapse, plucky Michie rallies the kids. Shane, Nate, Caitlin and the rest all step in as camp councillors while poor Jason is coerced into wrangling the boisterous juniors led by mischievous Trevor (Frankie Jonas). Eager to prove her friends have what it takes, Michie challenges Camp Star to a musical showdown, but Axel ups the stakes by suggesting a globally televised live event wherein viewers will text-vote for their favourite camp - with the loser shut down, forever. Although stressful rehearsals nearly scupper friendships and burgeoning romance, Shane revives the kids sense of fun with an apocalyptic water fight, but none of them suspects the contest they are about to enter has been rigged from the beginning.
Well, what do you know? Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam goes against the grain and bests its predecessor as a snappier and surprisingly insightful teen musical comedy. Admittedly this is still unlikely to appeal to most people over the age of sixteen, but even curmudgeons have to admit Camp Rock has had a serious injection of pizzazz. Disney's young cast have been honing their comedic skills in their respective sitcoms while the dance sequences are so much more polished thanks to choreographer Rosero McCoy. From the pop-and-lock fest of "It's On" to the rousing mess hall anthem "We Can't Back Down" where Lovato belts up a storm while her co-stars stomp out a rhythm with military precision, the film carries an exuberant spirit that recalls old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals.
Ever-smiley Demi Lovato shows off her vivacious new dance moves and bright retro-Sixties fashions like a latter-day Sandra Dee, but the supporting players - who since the first movie have become notable tween stars in their own right - all have their moment in the spotlight. Alyson Stoner still stands out as a dance machine, Meaghan Jette Martin shares a sassy strobe lit duet with Matthew 'Mdot' Finlay and Nick Jonas snags a notable solo number with his attempt to woo comely Chloe Bridges with "Introducing Me" - which has some amusing lyrics.
Teenage awkwardness and romantic complications are significant plot points, but the core theme here is an ideological clash between love of music/artistic expression and the ruthless pursuit of fame. Camp Star is all surface flash but the end result of its dog-eat-dog philosophy ("You have to know the players if you want to be in the game", remarks cynical Luke) is an outbreak of inflated egos, shallow showboating and showbiz bitchery as a forlorn Tess (always the most complex character) discovers to her cost. The message is a bit rich coming from Disney, but at least their heart is in the right place and the digs at the whole Simon Cowell mentality are much appreciated. The big televised showdown is genuinely emotional and strikes a fine balance between providing the bittersweet happy ending and showing kids showbiz success is not the be all and end all.