For some, camp was a rite of passage. A few weeks during the summer to feel a sense of independence from our parents, experience nature, make new friends and learn the multitude of ways a pine cone and glue gun can add a zippy accent to your bedroom decor. For others, it was a favorite trope in movies and television. The way, in July, Christmas felt so far away I would start putting up decorations and playing the Peter, Paul and Mary holiday album, by January, summer was a distant memory and I would sit with friends and watch the classic Disney Channel show Bug Juice to remind myself that flip-flops and orange slices were in the not too distant future. As we round the corner on summer, let’s take a look at some of the great movies that capture the magic of summer camp.
Baby-Sitters Club: The Movie
From the stories of your favorite literary entrepreneurs, this movie was peak 90’s. The cast was amazing (Rachel Leigh Cook as Mary-Anne? Brilliant). The fashion, a mélange of green mohair halter tops, butterfly accessories, plaid button downs and more denim than the law would ever again allow, was, in short, perfection. The film centers on the seven young women starting a day camp for the kids they regularly babysit and the work that comes with it. But it also features some truly heart-wrenching moments about growing up, the importance of being honest with those closest to you, taking responsibility for your actions and the power of friendship. (A little bit of trivia: Schuyler Fisk, the goddess who plays Kristy, is the daughter of Sissy Spacek).
Parent Trap (1998)
Without any slight to the 1961 masterpiece of the same name, I chose the version that I can still quote from top to bottom. Featuring a young Lindsay Lohan in a breakout performance as long-separated twin sisters who meet at camp and immediately team up to get their estranged parents back together, the movie is heartfelt and funny. Re-watching as an adult I’m still charmed by the secret handshakes, the rivalry that turns into friendship and the amazing cast of secondary characters. Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid have an adorable chemistry, only surpassed by the unexpected courtship of Lisa Ann Walter and Simon Kunz.
Addams Family Values
I don’t need more incentive to recommend this movie than it features Christine Baranski as a camp counselor whose cheeriness is simultaneously saccharin and terrifying. The movie plays on the exquisite strangeness of the first Addams Family but includes additional characters who bounce off the families macabre insouciance with eternal confusion. It also turns the joys of summer on its ear; look no further than the chilling rendition of “Kumbaya” for proof that group merriment isn’t a welcome experience for every camp-goer.
Remember what I said about camp being an opportunity to feel a sense of independence from your parents? That’s what this movie is all about. Hoping to avoid summer camps their parents have enrolled them in, a group of tenacious pre-teens creates a fake summer camp with the help of their drama teacher, the magical Christopher Lloyd. The movie has a lot of charm, hijinks and features some soon to be superstars including Jessica Alba in her feature debut, Jonathan Jackson of Nashville fame and 90’s teen heartthrob turned spiritual guru/parrot owner Andrew Keegan.
Troop Beverly Hills
Is it technically a film about camping? No. But if there is a better moment on film than Shelly Long entering the frame wearing a full length, fur trimmed, mauve nightgown- I’ve never seen it. Who am I kidding, the black dress with emerald green accent and matching hat set me up for decades of disappointment discovering the limits of my sartorial reach. The movie wasn’t only about glorious fashion statements, however. It was about female friendships, being an insider on the outside and an outsider on the inside, learning the importance of hard work, achieving goals on your own terms and a shade of red hair that doesn’t appear in nature but I’m almost certain is the actual color of my heart.