Growing up in this area of Vermont, the great outdoors was always right outside my backdoor, so to some extent it made sense that I never attended a summer camp as a child. I was also fortunate enough to have an outdoor-loving family that took my sisters and me hiking and camping throughout the summer and created ample opportunities for carpentry projects on a small and grand scale. A variety of chores also “built my character” and a mastery in wood chopping, wood stacking, house painting, garden weeding, lawn mowing, roof repair, driveway repair, fence repair and manure redistribution – all which would have made excellent merit badges. Other than a week at Boys’ State in Northfield 20 years ago, my idea of camp has essentially been shaped by these pieces of entertainment.
“The Parent Trap” 1961 – If one important aspect of summer camp is making new friends that will feel as close to as brothers and sisters, this film suggests that they may actually be your sibling! Long before Lindsay Lohan doubled up in the remake, it was “Haley Mills and Haley Mills in ‘The Parent Trap’,” as the teaser proclaimed. Disney staple Mills (“Pollyanna”) takes on two roles as both of the estranged twin sisters Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick, pushing split screen technology to its limits at the time. When Evers and McKendrick meet by chance at a summer camp, their uncanny similar looks turn out to have more to do with heredity than hairstyle. Realizing that they have each been living with one half of a now split couple, the girls decide to swap lives in an attempt to get their parents to reunite. This film was made in the golden age of Disney’s live action films and is worth it just to hear Mills sing the earworm duet with herself, “Let’s Get Together.”
“Holes” 2003 – To many children, staying at an overnight camp is a welcome escape from the doldrums that can come with the dog days of summer. Wrongly tried teen Stanley Yelnats finds himself spending a summer at Camp Green Lake (a work camp alternative for juvenile detention), where he is doomed to repeat most boring activity roster imaginable: digging five foot deep holes that are five feet in diameter. Set against this bleak backdrop of a forced labor camp is a film full of all the joys of a traditional summer camp: being accepted by new friends, creating nicknames, outdoor adventure, life-survival skills and plenty of “character building” a.k.a hole digging. Children and adults will both enjoy this family friendly film that culminates in a search for treasure and familial redemption, proving that even the worst camp can create the best friends. This genuinely good film based on the well-loved book by Louis Sachar lands Disney a second title on this list.
“The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” 2014 to present – If you’re too busy skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing through the end of winter to sit down and watch a full movie, then Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake squeeze some camp comedy into a recurring skit that won’t take up too much of your time. Set in our neighboring state to the east, Fallon’s Camp Winnipesaukee skits cast himself and Timberlake as tween bunkmates at summer camp in the 1980s or 1990s depending on what song each skit is built around. Embracing the awkwardness and silliness that comes with this age, the boys try to quietly sing hits of the era but inevitably violate the rules of quiet time when they excitedly belt out the chorus and are confronted by an inept counselor. Whiles the skits may feel formulaic when played back to back, the sheer joy of Fallon and Timberlake is infectious as they barely make it through each skit before breaking into gales of laughter themselves.
“I Want to go Home” by Gordon Korman – Three decades ago, this book introduced me to my favorite middle school author, Gordon Korman, who was born a short jaunt north of here in Montreal. The protagonist of this story, Rudy Miller, is a boy who hates being at camp and decides that escape would be the best solution to his current predicament. Applying both subtle and slapstick humor, this novel has the potential to make you laugh out loud. And if you enjoy this book, you will find that it is very much in the vein of Korman’s other works, which often find middle school students in outrageous situations of their own creation. His Bruno and Boots boarding school anthology has recently been adapted into a series of television movies, but the humor is richer and in more detail when written with Korman’s deadpan, but side-splitting style.
“The Burning” 1981 – If you’re looking for some entertainment with a more macabre slant, there are few settings that were more popular in 1980 slasher films than a summer camp. It seems there was no shortage of hormonally-distracted, irresponsible teenagers to fill vacant counseling positions during this decade which spawned an entire series of “Sleepaway Camp” films and staffed Camp Crystal Lake time and time again with throwaway victims for the popular “Friday the 13th” films. While “The Burning” is a lesser known title, its setting in upstate New York sets this film a little closer to our backyard than most of the others films during this time. This film benefits from performances by future stars Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter, and the stellar makeup effects done by goremast Tom Savini more than earns its R rating. This is definitely not a movie to watch when your children are around, and unless you are planning to bring them home early, I might not watch this when they are away at camp this summer either.
If nothing else, this list will hopefully help you convince your children that summer camp is full of the kind of experiences that great stories are made of.