After creating monster hits with the Hannah Montana and High School Musical franchises, Disney Channel aims its latest TV movie, Camp Rock, right at the tween sweet spot. Rock is the breakout vehicle for Demi Lovato, who starred on the network’s As the Bell Rings — but more marketably, it features the drastically popular sibling teen-idol band (and Disney Channel regulars) the Jonas Brothers. The supporting campers are played by still more Disney Channel kids — and everyone dances and sings lame and/or ridiculously catchy tunes by Hannah Montana and HSM songwriters. (You’ll hear a lot of ”This Is Me” this summer, me predicts.) Close your eyes after staring directly at Camp Rock, and you’ll see thousands of tiny mouse ears.
If you’ve seen any of these movies before, you can probably guess the plot from the title. Rocker Shane Gray (lead singer Joe Jonas) has become so egotistical, his bandmates (Nick and Kevin Jonas, playing it Monkees-style light in their few scenes) insist he return to earth by counseling at the place that launched them: Camp Rock. Meanwhile, regular girl Mitchie (Lovato, who has the knee-jerk smile of someone who is often told she has a great smile) is attending camp only because her mom is the staff cook. Insecure Mitchie soon finds herself lying about her humble life and suppressing her lovely voice in order to befriend the resident Mean Girl (Meaghan Jette Martin), a falsity that threatens Mitchie’s burgeoning friendship with Shane.
Lying about who you are and refusing to let your awesomeness shine are big Disney no-no’s. (Big ironic Disney no-no’s, considering Hannah Montana is about a girl who lies about her superstar alter ego, pretending instead to be average.) The likable High School Musical was all about Troy and Gabriella’s brave decisions — seriously, they did seem brave — to be true to themselves, ignore their respective cliques, and sing. The strange and objectionable thing about Camp Rock’s morality tale is that no one makes an outright decision to be brave, to be better. Mitchie admits her mom is the cook only because she’s cornered, and Mean Girl gets sweeter only because she flubs her big routine. Humiliation shouldn’t be the motivating factor for self-improvement, but the script takes myriad such shortcuts: Shane proves he’s not a jerk because he helps a clumsy drummer dance. Mitchie and Shane launch a romance in which neither says anything charming but they both laugh like they did (though Joe Jonas admittedly gives Zac Efron a run in the chaste-soulful-stare department). Certainly, these Disney concoctions tend to be broad-stroked — they’re a lively bridge between cartoons and Gossip Girl. But Camp Rock is so rigidly formulaic, so unremarkable, that by the time the cast sings its finale, ”We Rock,” it’s hard to agree. C