I’ve let this question roll around in my head for some time: is Camp Rock (directed by Matthew Diamond) a musical “proper?” The second film (directed by Paul Hoen) definitely is. Characters often let the music speak for them in the sequel, as with the powerful competition track “Can’t Back Down” and the showdown between rival camps “It’s On.” The hopeful camp kickoff song “Brand New Day” starts with a few lyrics from Mitchie and evolves into a more expansive musical number. Similarly, “Wouldn’t Change a Thing” (one of my favorites) begins simply with Shane (Joe Jonas) strumming his guitar, and it builds into a duet where he is no longer playing the instrument. He and Mitchie (Demi Lovato) sing passionately but separately, walking through the woods until they glimpse one another at the end.
The first movie primarily utilizes musical numbers as intentional performances. These help tell the story, but they aren’t delivered in the movie-musical style we’ve come to know from Disney Channel. “Play My Music,” “Too Cool,” “2 Stars,” “Hasta La Vista,” “Here I Am,” and “We Rock” are all onstage numbers; many of them are delivered at the camp’s various “jams.” “What It Takes” is performed in the mess hall. Peggy’s song “Here I Am” reveals a dedicated singer ready to stand confidently on her own. I’m not sure there’s a song that fits a character better than “Too Cool” for Tess: “You think you’re hot but I’m sorry; you’re not exactly who you think you are,” she declares in her sequined gold dress.
“Who Will I Be” is an upbeat track Mitchie has recorded that she listens to while getting ready for school early in the first film. I watched a behind-the-scenes clip in which the director explains the significance of Mitchie opening the movie asking, “Who will I be?” and ending it saying, “This is me.” Mitchie initially sings “This is Me” at the piano, which moves Shane to separately sing “Gotta Find You” in pursuit of this mystery voice. “Start the Party” acts as a dance number before becoming an accidental audition piece for Shane to find his girl. But as always, everything makes sense when Shane and Mitchie finally sing together. In between all those moments, she isn’t happy with who she really is and decides to create a fake backstory for herself. Of course, the truth comes out that Mitchie’s mom is the camp cook (who is perfectly played by Maria Canals-Barrera from Wizards).
Disney Channel fans have mixed feelings about the strength of both stories. I always thought that Tess framing Mitchie for stealing her bracelet in the first film was a little silly. And it’s frustrating that Brown lets Tess get away with that. However, I do miss Tess in the second film, since she has a smaller role as a Camp Star participant. The girl power crew in the sequel is made up of Mitchie, Caitlyn, Peggy, and Ella. Establishing those friendships in the first film makes it easier to see everyone grow up a bit more and take on camp counselor roles in the second movie. Mitchie is so invested in saving Camp Rock that she loses sight of the fun and freetime campers need so much while learning performing arts skills. Frankie Jonas is so cute in the sequel, and I like the richer storylines for Kevin and Nick Jonas — Kevin’s character Jason works with the junior campers, and Nick’s Nate falls for the daughter of the Camp Star owner.
Of course, the second film has songs intended for performances, too, not strictly narrative musical numbers. “Fire” and “Tear It Down” are performed by Camp Star members (mostly Luke and Tess); “Heart and Soul” and “What We Came Here For” belong to the Camp Rockers. Perhaps the sweetest song out of either film is the campfire anthem “This is Our Song” in Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam. It strips away the major musical format and shows us the campers in their purest form. The song makes me want to roast marshmallows over a fire and make s’mores. How simple and beautiful sing to about summer memories and express joy in them.
Even though the first movie doesn’t launch into the same kinds of elaborate musical numbers seen in the second, it was obviously a big deal to watch it on Disney Channel in 2008. By the end of the premiere, 9.8 million people had tuned in. Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers, Alyson Stoner, Ana Maria Perez de Tagle, Jasmine Richards, Meaghan Martin, Jordan Francis, Roshon Fegan — all these teens made the magic happen and returned for the second film. Camp Rock 2 was slightly down at around 8 million viewers, but still strong for a 2010 DCOM.
As summer officially draws to a close, I’m grateful for the opportunity to contemplate Disney Channel musicals/music-driven films a bit more. At this point in my DCOM journey, I’ve rewatched music-filled DCOMs including High School Musical 1 and 2, Camp Rock 1 and 2, the Cheetah Girls trilogy, Lemonade Mouth, and more recent films from the ZOMBIES franchise (I’m saving Descendants rewatches for Halloween time). HSM, The Cheetah Girls, and the Camp Rock films were a big part of my youth, and they’re still fun to watch at age 28.