By Verne Gay
It’s been called the successor to Disney’s tweener mega-smash “High School Musical.” Decide for yourself when “Camp Rock” premieres at 8 tonight on the Disney Channel. Here’s what you need to know in advance:
Reason to watch: Teeny-bopper sensations the Jonas Brothers make their screen debut, and newcomer singer-actress Demi Lovato gets her first substantial TV role.
What it’s about: Nice, middle-class kid Mitchie Torres (Lovato) really, really, wants to go to the hot music camp, Camp Rock, where kids learn to be stars. But Mom and Dad can’t swing the cost — until Mom gets a gig as camp cook. Meanwhile, teen superstar Shane Gray (Joe Jonas) is about to break up his boy band. He doesn’t want to sing anymore because he’s sick of the pop pap the band’s been reduced to playing, and yearns for ... he’s not entirely sure what. His uncle invites him to teach at CR, where he arrives with his brothers Jason (Kevin Jonas) and Nate (Nick Jonas).
Back at camp, Mitchie has hooked up with the power girl clique, headed by snooty perfect blonde Tess Tyler (Meaghan Jette Martin), whose mom’s a big singing star. Mitchie wants some of that stardust and fakes her background to gain entry to Tess’ little club. Big mistake.
Anyway, Mitchie has written this song that speaks directly to Shane’s disillusionment, which he overhears her sing (”This is the real me/I’m exactly what I want to be/I’m gonna let the light shine on me”). Suddenly, he sees a way out. But first, he’s gotta meet this girl. There are some camp jams around the fire, at the mess hall, in the theater, and — somehow — true love, honesty and decency win out in the end.
The power girl clique? It meets a different fate.
Bottom line: Come on! Who cares what I or anyone else says? This is a hit, and has been carefully crafted by Disney to become one. The formula may be as old as pop culture itself, but (again) who really cares? Formulas shouldn’t necessarily earn demerits because they are formulas; what counts is how cleverly or skillfully the creators have worked within the confines. Here, they’ve worked perfectly well.
The Jonas Brothers? They’re good, but there’s not nearly enough of them — only one song and that comes an hour in (though Joe does sing a pretty and stirring serenade to Lovato). The dance scenes? All with the requisite energy and zing. Song quality? Pop, but uniformly competent and catchy.
Best of all is Lovato, a hugely appealing screen presence. “Camp Rock” is all hers.