A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Horse Camp, a heartfelt coming-of-age story of a teen searching for herself, her values, and her place in the world, has lots of positive messages. The story tends to rely upon one-dimensional characters -- mean girls, misfits, perky counselors -- as well as shopworn thematic material: wanting to belong, following the crowd, sticking up for the outsider, and betrayal. Being pretty, thin, and popular -- issues that touch almost all tween and teen girls -- are dealt with in obvious ways and are easily resolved here. Though the central character is admirable and learns a lot about being ethical and authentic, she breaks camp rules and, rather than have to face consequences, is rewarded for her behavior. Set almost entirely at a real Michigan summer camp for girls, the film spends much time on camp activities, camp songs, and lengthy sequences featuring girls riding beautiful horses.
What's the story?
Kathy (Jordan Trovillion) is 17, home-schooled, and shy and lacks self-confidence at the opening of HORSE CAMP. Though her parents are former rodeo stars, Kathy has never been on a horse. She's always loved the beautiful creatures and wanted to ride, but her mother forbid it because her dad was seriously injured in a fall. So when the topic of summer camp comes up, Kathy has to beg and plead for the chance to go to Black River Horse Camp. She's delighted when she wins that battle but still apprehensive about spending an entire summer away from home, especially since she's sure she's "ugly" and doesn't make friends easily. When she arrives at Black River, it isn't long before she meets Lisa, a real friend (Rachel Sowers in an amazingly natural performance). Lisa and a spirited horse named Sundance promise to make it a great summer for Kathy. Only Stacy, mean-girl extraordinaire, can spoil everything. She can and she does ... at least until Lisa does a "makeover" for her new BFF, strengthens Kathy's resolve, and challenges her to be the best that she can be. Kathy takes the challenge and, as Lisa promised, everything changes. But the story's just beginning. Will Kathy be able to deal with her newfound beauty and popularity, or will she lose sight of her values? Will Stacy's long reign as "Camp Princess" be at risk? What will Kathy finally learn about herself and the kind of person she wants to be?
Is it any good?
Without question, director Joel Paul Reisig wanted to share the experience of horse camp (at Black River Ranch, in particular) with his audience, and he's more than successful at that. The viewer feels a part of the camp -- the singing, the myriad activities, the exquisite horses, the camaraderie, the responsibilities, the daily delight. In fact there's so much camp life and so many lengthy shots of girls riding that even though the movie is almost two hours long, the primary characters and the story have to fight for screen time. Often, a film creator who writes, directs, and produces the movie has difficulty retaining the distance or perspective necessary to evaluate the work. In this case, story and character inconsistencies (it's never clear what it takes to become "Camp Princess"), as well as contradictory attitudes about being pretty and about owning up to past mistakes, compromise an already predictable, conventional premise. Tween and teen girls will like the beautiful horses and horsemanship but shouldn't look too closely at behavior, motivation, and outcomes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Stacy, the "mean" girl. Why do you think the other campers are willing to go along with her behavior? If they're afraid to challenge her, what do they think might happen to them? Does it sometimes take courage to do the right thing?
This film has several inconsistencies or contradictions (for example, most of the time Kathy's parents are sensitive and loving, but in the opening dinner table scene, they seem oblivious to her). Think about the inconsistency with regard to what it takes to be selected Camp Princess. Do you notice such missteps? How does that affect your appreciation of the movie?
Were you surprised Kathy didn't get in trouble for sneaking out to hang out with a dangerous horse or for riding bareback when that had been strictly forbidden? Do you think she should have had some consequences for her actions?
- In theaters: September 10, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 24, 2015
- Cast: Dean Cain, Jordan Trovillion, Kristen Ryda
- Director: Joel Paul Reisig
- Studio: Be Your Own Hollywood
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Horses and Farm Animals, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements
- Last updated: May 13, 2020
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