Magic Camp (2020) Review

NOT QUITE “MAGICAL” ENOUGH


 

The road to getting a theatrical feature film can be a very trying task with a host of problematic areas that play a contributing factor in making it to the big or small screen. The combination of studio interference and creative decisions can be one main culprit in such a example for a movie getting made; tasking the director and the filmmaking team to walk a “fine line” of pleasing the studio and the artistic nature of art. There is also the big decision of getting the movie to a media platform on whether it not it should be released as a theatrical release (i.e. in the movie theaters) or to be sold off to a streaming service (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, etc.). Walt Disney Studios has been noticeable for doing such tactics with several of its releases; axing projects in its inception stages (i.e. Giant) as well as firing directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for Solo: A Star Wars Story), and the shifting of release date / platforms (Pixar’s Soul from theatrical release to Disney+ streaming). Such is the case with Disney’s release of Magic Camp, a family comedy film that Disney produced and went through a production nightmare, including several delays to the project and cancelling its theatrical release date of April 6th, 2018; canning the project until now with a release on Disney+. So, let’s take a look at Magic Camp. Was it worth the several years delay or is it just a mediocre endeavor right from the get-go?

THE STORY


Andy Tuckerman is a down-on-his-luck magician, who is currently living his life as a cab taxi driver in Las Vegas and dealing with barrage of cheap tourists, while his ex-partner-in-crime, Kristina Darkwood (Gillian Jacobs) becomes a star on the Vegas strip. Visited by his old mentor, Roy Preston (Jeffery Tambor), Andy is asked to become a camp counselor at his old magical school stomping grounds, The Institute of Magic, which offers special kids interested in the art of illusion and trickery help to perfect their skills. One such camper is Theo Moses (Nathaniel McIntyre), a boy who’s recently lost his father, arriving at the Institute with a raw gift for the cards, who Andy takes a shine to. Taking command of the Hearts, the cabin for first-year student hopefuls, Andy tries to make something out of the odd misfits he’s been handed, all the while trying with his unresolved issues with Darkwood, who’s also returned to the summer camp and placed in charge of the Diamonds group. As the summer season unfolds, Theo deals with bullies as well as his own insecurities while attempting to find his place as a magician, while Andy struggles with his position as a teach and a performer.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about Magic Camp. There wasn’t much talk about the movie on the various movie websites that I frequently visit nor was there much “buzz” about the film on social media. So, I was a little bit surprised when I first saw the movie’s official trailer several months ago and that it was gonna premiere on the Disney+ streaming service. From the trailer alone, it kind of reminded me of a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) type of endeavor and seemed like a suitable choice for Disney’s streaming service. Plus, the film’s story seemed simple enough and kind of had a feeling of School of Rock / Heavyweights, with the classic scenarios of both projects playing out in this movie (presumably). So, while I wasn’t “super hyped” to see this movie, I did decide to check it out one day while I was surfing through Disney+ a month or two after it debuted on there. And what did I think of it? Well, not that much. While the intent is there, Magic Camp comes off as a shallow and uninspiring from the “House of Mouse”. It will definitely catch the eye of its “tween” viewers, but doesn’t have a lasting impression for everyone else.

Magic Camp is directed by Mark Waters, whose previous directorial works includes such movies like Freaky Friday, Mean Girls, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Given his background in mostly family friendly features, Waters seems like a capable / suitable choice to helm a project like this. To that end, Waters does semi-succeed; approaching the film with a sense of “kid gloves” and family friendly atmosphere. There’s plenty of lighthearted moments throughout and I think that Waters’s keeps that in mind while staging the feature’s events; providing plenty of humor-based moments for viewing as well as keeping the tried and true “stamp” of an underdog story. This is especially noticeable in the character of Andy Tuckerman and the young tweens that he has to manage over the course of the summer at the camp. Plus, the movie does offer plenty of distraction within its various magic trickery and illusions. While Waters and his team don’t really try to explain a lot of the film’s various magic tricks, it still enough to dazzle and keep everything moving. Like I said, I’m sure the movie’s target audience will like the magic tricks and illusions throughout. Plus, while there are plenty of problems with this movie, but I do think that the someone of the film’s narrative elements definitely do work, especially those that surround the character development of Theo Moses and those nuances that surround his grieving for his late father. All in all, Waters’s keeps Magic Camp light and kid-friendly from start to finish.

In terms of presentation, Magic Camp is decent enough for what it wants to project, with many of the various locations and set-pieces resembling a typical outdoor summer camp motifs and aspects as well as some magician style-esque platforms (i.e. rooms, buildings, stages, etc.). None of it is anything to be “wowed” over, but, for what its worth, the movie’s background setting gets the job done. The same can be said with the feature’s editing and cinematography…. nothing to be amazed by, but its adequate enough. Perhaps the one thing that does stand out is all the various set decorations and movie props (especially the ones that involved magic tools / props), which are decent enough to make them “pop”. While the film’s score, which was composed by Rolfe Kent, is decent enough in a passable way (i.e. nothing stands out, but it gets the job done) in hitting all the right melodic background moments, Magic Camp does feature a good dose of catchy musical song collections throughout the movie. I can’t really say that I knew any of them, but they were melodically pleasant and were pleasing to hear.

Unfortunately, Magic Camp struggle throughout its runtime and ends up being a little bit half-baked, with plenty of points of criticism to examine. Perhaps the most critical one is the simple fact that the feature itself is quite strong enough as a theatrical film. What do I mean? Well, the movie, for lack of a better term, is somewhat stuck between a theatrical feature film project and a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), which results in the film having a sort of odd feeling throughout. That’s not saying that the movie is terrible or unwatchable, but project doesn’t seem strong enough to be feature film (under the Disney Banner) nor does it solidify itself to be memorable DCOM endeavor. This, of course, makes Magic Camp feel stuck in a quasi-limbo feature presentation that can’t find a proper medium balance in its type of theatrical scale.

What also weakens the film is in its script handling, which is credited to six writers, including Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Matt Spicer, Max Winkler, Gabe Sachs, and Jeff Judah. As you can probably tell that the film’s creative writing team is quite large and results in “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario. For most part, the movie is clear in what it wants to tackle and follow through on. However, the end result doesn’t quite translate well to on-screen; creating several bland tones and unmemorable moments. It’s all been done before in a much better theatrical light, with the script shaping for the movie being rather a “paint by numbers” formula, with almost every square inch of the movie quite predictable. What makes matters worse is that the movie’s narrative seems quite crammed with a plethora of side-characters (more on that below), but the neither the script nor the feature’s direction has time to discuss them or to expand upon them. Thus, what’s presented is quite thin and flat and seems rather cliché to the touch.

What also falls into Magic Camp’s criticism is in the film’s cast, which (buy and large) gets the job done, but are mostly rendered to being rather flat and unoriginal characters throughout, despite some of the talents involved or how they are presented in the main story. Leading the charge and headlining the movie is actor Adam Devine as the film’s protagonist character of Andy Tuckerman. Known for his roles in Pitch Perfect, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, and Jexi, Devine has slowly gained some recognition within comedy film genre, which is probably why he was chosen for the movie role. To his credit, I think that Devine was perfect as Andy, displaying the right amount of snark attitude and comedy angst throughout, especially those ones involving the various tween co-stars he interacts with. He definitely carries the movie on his shoulders and I think the movie would’ve been worse (at least to me) if he wasn’t a part of it. The downside, however, is that the character of Andy has been done many, many times before in similar projects and the representation of this down-on-his luck archetype that gets a ragtag group of kids to make him see the error of his ways is rather flat and unmemorable from start to finish. There are vague mentions of his character’s past, which definitely could’ve been fleshed out, but nothing really materializes. Thus, the character of Andy Tuckerman is only elevated by Devine’s performance and nothing helps. Basically, depending on your view of Devine, you’ll either like his portrayal of Andy or hate it. To me, I’m part of the former than the latter. Meaning….I liked him in the movie.

The only other character that somewhat makes a somewhat impression on me and on the film’s story was in the character of Theo Mosses, who is played by young actor Nathaniel McIntyre (Tickety Toc and David Makes Man). While the character is rather conventional as the somewhat child protagonist that goes from “zero to hero” in the story, McIntyre handles the role quite well as I wasn’t really expecting much from such an unknown acting talent. In truth, McIntyre does the emotional heavy lifting scenes in a pretty good way and definitely makes a lasting impact. I just wished that his character could’ve been more well-rounded / original than the generic cookie-cutter presentation we get of Theo.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is rather uninteresting or rather their characters are, including actor Cole Sand (Austin & Ally and Masters of Sex) as Nathan, actress Isabella Crovetti (Shimmer and Shine and Colony) as Ruth, actress Josie Totah (Glee and Champions) as Judd, actress Izabella Alvarez (Westworld and Shameless) as Vera, actor Hayden Crawford (Adam Ruins Everything and Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn) as Vic, and actress Bianca Grava (Game Shakers and Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything) as Janelle. The acting talents, which are mostly the younger ones, are okay-ish and I definitely don’t mean to knock their talents, but their respective characters are rather cliched / stereotypes of classic pre-teen movies and of middle school cliques (i.e. the bully, the goth girl, the super enthusiastic one, the nerd, the rich girl, etc.). Plus, the movie doesn’t really fully develop these characters to be well-rounded (as mentioned above), which results in many of them (if not all) being one-dimensional and never breaking free beyond their initial setup.

Even more veteran actors such as Jeffery Tambor (Transparent and Arrested Development) as the mentor and owner of the Institute of Magic Roy Preston, actress Gillian Jacobs (Community and Choke) as Tuckerman’s old camp friend-turned-rival Kristina Darkwood, actor Aldis Hodge (Brian Banks and TURN: Washington’s Spies) and actress Rochelle Aytes (Trick ‘r Treat and White Chicks) as Theo’s dad and mom, can’t really help strengthen the movie’s underdeveloped roster of supporting characters, which is disappointing.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The illusions of magic and the sleight of hand takes centerstage in the movie Magic Camp. Director Mark Waters’s latest film takes a tried and true underdogs narrative for kids; placing it in the form of a magic summer camp that’s choke full of identifiable characters and moral lessons to be learned. However, despite the attempt of a heartfelt message and Devine’s performance acting as the feature’s centerpiece, much of the film is pretty bland and generic, especially considered the formulaic plot, vanilla / cliché characters (all woefully underdeveloped), a lackluster presentation from Water’s direction, and a boring narrative that’s been done better in other projects. Personally, I thought that this movie was pretty “meh” and disappointing. It had a few moments here and there, but nothing really exciting nor stimulating compared to what’s been done before (in better movies). Basically, I have very little interest to revisit this particular movie. Although, perhaps the target audience Magic Camp will probably get something a bit more out of this film instead of adults. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is maybe a “iffy choice” for some, while a “skip it” for everyone else. Altogether, Magic Camp doesn’t really hold its own by wallowing in mundane mediocrity with very little magic to his own cinematic name.

2.6 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Skip It)

 

Released On: August 14th, 2020
Reviewed On: October 16th, 2020

Magic Camp  is 100 minutes and is rated PG for some mild rude humor

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