Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Camp Nowhere”

It’s summertime and during any other year thousands of kids across North America would be packing up for summer camp. Since COVID-19 has pretty much ended most if not all summer camps, ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ celebrates this time-honored tradition with Hollywood Pictures 1994 film, Camp Nowhere.

The Movie

Middle school students Morris, Zack, Trish, and Gaby played by Jonathan Jackson, Andrew Keegan, Marnette Patterson, and Melody Kay, are close to the summer holidays but they have a problem. They are all being pressured by their parents to go to summer camp again, which none of them wants. Morris comes up with a brilliant plan to solve their problems. The kids enlist the help of former drama teacher Dennis Van Welker, played by Christopher Lloyd. The kids have Dennis impersonate a representative from a fictional summer camp and he convinces the parents to let their children attend. The parents think their kids are going to prestigious camps, while the kids know they are doing their own thing under the ‘supervision’ of Dennis. The ruse works so well that word starts to spread to the group’s friends, and soon, dozens of kids want in on the scheme.

Finding a rundown lakeside lodge, Morris leads the group to their new ‘summer camp’ with no parents or authority figure, except Dennis. Here for the next two months the kids spend the summer away from their parents, and relationships start to form.

Naturally, the charade can’t last long, as a local state trooper, played by Tom Wilson, starts to wonder about all the kids coming into town and where they are coming from. The curious cop, a debt collector, played by M. Emmett Walsh, searching for Dennis who has outstanding debts, and an elaborate parents’ day at the camp collide and bring the kids’ charade crashing down to reality.

The Best Moments on Screen

Christopher Lloyd gives his best in every scene. Watching him act out four different roles to the parents in order to convince them to let the kids go to the ‘camp’ is brilliantly done and allows a genuinely talented and funny actor like Lloyd to shine. He throws himself into the scenes with gusto which lets the audience sit back and enjoy while the wool is pulled over the eyes of the unsuspecting parents.

Much of the film rests on the shoulders of Jonathan Jackson. Morris is the center of the story and drives the plot throughout the film. Jackson does a great job at keeping the plot going, but also playing off well against Christopher Lloyd. Jackson is likeable and the audience will root for his Morris.

The Worst Moments on Screen

All the parents in this film are horrible. Not only are they awful to their kids, they are all one dimensional and reinforce a common stereotype about parents in film that they don’t know their kids and are out of touch with the interests of their own children.

Also, what was the deal with all the kissing at the end of the film? This is a movie about middle schoolers and in no way did anyone need to see the intense make out sessions that the end of the film showed amongst the main four kids.

Tom Wilson doesn’t get enough to do in the film. I wish he and his Back to the Future co-star Christopher Lloyd had more screen time together.

Film Facts

  • This is the film debut of Jonathan Jackson.
  • Real life husband and wife Genie Francis and Jonathan Frakes play parents of one of the campers.
  • Christopher Lloyd and Tom Wilson appeared in all three Back to the Future movies.
  • This is Jessica Alba’s film debut.
  • There is a bar in Rhode Island named after and themed to this film.
  • Burgess Meredith has a cameo in the film.
  • This film has three Star Trek alumni in it: Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Christopher Lloyd from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek: Voyager, who plays a parent of one of the kids.
  • The movie was filmed at Disney’s famed Golden Oak Ranch.

See It/Skip It?

Skip It! I wish I could say that Camp Nowhere is an enjoyable film. It’s predictable, and the film seems very uncertain about its own identity. At the beginning we seem to have a story about four kids who are trying to escape from their parents and enjoy their summer. Once the film makes it to the camp, we see an attempt to build a relationship between Jackson and Lloyd that never really fleshes out, and then the movie ends with the lead actors mauling each other in cringe worthy scenes. It seems like the film tried to veer into the teen sex romp, when that’s not what the previous one hour and twenty-nine minutes were about.

Camp Nowhere is available on Disney+. Check it and see if you agree with me.

Next week, in celebration of the release of Hamilton on Disney+, we look back at another Broadway smash that got a film treatment, Noises Off.

Director: Jonathan Prince

Production Company: Hollywood Pictures

Principal Cast:

  • Jonathan Jackson as Morris ‘Mud’ Himmel
  • Andrew Keegan as Zack Dell
  • Melody Kay as Gaby
  • Marnette Patterson as Trish
  • Christopher Lloyd as Dennis Van Welker
  • M. Emmet Welsh as T.R. Polk
  • Thomas Wilson as Lt. Hendricks
  • Wendy Makkena as Celeste

Release Date: August 26, 1994

Box Office Gross Domestic =$10,475,705