If you've got summer camp lined up for your kids and they're not completely sold on it, these movies might help them get in the mood. Their camp experience may not include elaborate Disney musical numbers or finding a long-lost twin, or but they'll get an idea of the fun — and occasional angst — that are part of the camp experience.
This list is in order of age recommendation youngest to oldest.
Recommended for 6 and up; released 1961, rated G, 1998 rated PG
You get a two for one with The Parent Trap because both versions, the original 1961 version with Hayley Mills, and the updated 1998 version with Lindsay Lohan, are charming and fun. While both deal with divorce and depend on the idea that the parents have been lying to (or withholding information from) their children for years, it's easy to overlook the premise and enjoy the films for what they are intended to be. The updated version contains more implications of sex and drinking than the original but not in any way that is particularly objectionable.
Recommended for ages 8 and up; rated G; released 2008
Did you like High School Musical? This is the camp version and it's packed with squeaky-clean Disney bubblegum. Kids will enjoy the music the story of a young dreamer trying to fit in and falling in love with a "bad boy" rock star.
(I can't emphasize the "air quotes" enough since we are talking about the Jonas Brothers.)
Recommended for ages 8 and up; rated PG; released 2008
In keeping with the rock camp theme this documentary focuses on a rock 'n' roll camp for girls that helps build confidence as they learn to express themselves through shredding guitar, pounding drums,and screaming lyrics.
The music is, in some ways, the polar opposite of the polished pop of the Disney musical Camp Rock. The girlpower message in this film is compelling and undeniable.
Recommended for ages 9 and up; rated PG
This movie, based on the popular book series, centers around the club's efforts to set up a day camp. While it feels a little more realistic in its portrayal of tween life than your average Disney musical the plot is a bit too neat and melodramatic. The performances are strong, however, and kids will engage easily with the charming cast of characters.
Recommended for ages 9 and up; rated PG; released 1995
This is a relatively early Judd Apatow effort as he was making the transition from TV to movies. Regardless of what you think of films like the 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, Heavyweights is a wacky and fun look at a "fat camp" for overweight kids. As a satire it's not really offensive to overweight children and Ben Stiller's role as the over-the-top health nut owner of the camp pushes the film into surreal comedy.
If you're up for an offbeat and subversive summer camp movie this may be what you're looking for.
Recommended for ages 10 and up; not rated but probably TV-PG; released 1995
This made-for-TV movie is a who's who of 1980s' (and earlier) actors from Cheers, The Wonder Years, even The Love Boat and features a young Jennifer Anniston in one of her first roles.
The real appeal of this one, for parents at least, is as a sometimes unintentionally hilarious time capsule of late 80s fashion. Kids should enjoy it for what it is, a mostly harmless summer camp caper.
Recommended for ages 18 and up; rated PG-13; released 1993
This Addams Family film — starring Angelica Huston, Joan Cusack, among other standouts — is a Gothic comedy filled with macabre elements, but still a comedy. At one point in the film, Wednesday and Pugsley are shipped off to summer camp, which gives the film the chance to take the traditional summer camp tropes and turns them upside down with the typical Addams Family creepiness and subversive style.
Older kids should find it fun, especially if they are into content with a darker tone.
Recommended for ages 13 and up; rated PG; released 1979
This classic carries a PG rating but only because it came out before the introduction of PG-13 in 1984. (In fact, with the pervasive sexual innuendo and language it may have contributed to the creation of the new rating.)
Meatballs is definitely for older kids who are ready for the racier content. The movie features Bill Murray in one of his early film roles before he hit it big with Caddyshack. The film itself is uneven but Murray's hilarious performance easily carries the show and makes this one a summer camp must-see.
Recommended for ages 3 and up; rated PG-13; released in 2012
The director Wes Anderson is noted for his quirky, almost surreal style, fully on display here. Set in 1963, this sweetly strange film concerns two 12-year-olds who meet the summer of 1963 at summer camp, and make a pact to run away together.
Aside from the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox this is probably Anderson's most family-friendly film; although it feels strange to write that sentence because his films are so hard to classify. Kids should enjoy the portrayal of the paramilitary khaki scouts. There is some sexual content although it's very mild.
Recommended for ages 13 and up; unrated; released 2006
Summer camp movies tend to explore the same themes of young people taking their first steps into the wider world, layered with comic situations or the musical numbers that entertainment demands.
But If you want a look at what really happens at camp, the documentary Summercamp! shows an unvarnished view of homesickness, the frustration of counselors, and the endless stream of talent shows and camp competitions.
Looking for more great movie ideas for kids and families?
- Check out the latest from Movie Dad John Kubalak