Disney+ dusted off an old magic trick with today’s release of Magic Camp, a film that spent two years in limbo for unspecified reasons. Speculations were that the film was simply that bad, that it was beyond saving with reshoots or a re-edit. But now that it’s out for the world of Disney+ subscribers to experience, I don’t think that’s the reason at all.
The film centers around two main characters; Theo, a boy who recently lost his veteran father who signed his son up for the “Institute of Magic” before he passed away, and Andy (Adam Devine, Modern Family), a bitter former camper who’s magic career hasn’t gone the way he planned. Through these two characters, we meet a cast of misfits who discover themselves over a five-week summer camp program.
The execution feels very derivative of School of Rock, with many of the kids’ personalities plucked directly from Jack Black’s classroom. Even Adam Devine’s main character parallels that film, replacing a rock-and-roll career gone wrong with a magician who just couldn’t cut it on the Las Vegas strip. His rivalry with fellow counselor and successful magician Christina Darkwood (Gillian Jacobs) extends from his past into the present as the two counselors lead their cabins towards the end of camp Top Hat Competition.
This comedy has a few light moments of humor, but actually takes itself more seriously than the title suggests. Theo’s loss of his father and emotional reconnection with him through his summer at the Institute of Magic is really the heart of the film. If you came to Magic Camp expecting to laugh your heart out, you’ll be disappointed. But if you came looking for a heartwarming Disney film for the entire family about self-discovery, you’ll find that Magic Camp has its own unique brand of, for lack of a better phrase, magic.
So why did Magic Camp spend years locked in a vault like an Animaniac, receiving a quiet release on Disney+ with just one week of promotion and no advance reviews? As far as I can tell, the reason is “Cancel culture.” Not seen in the trailer and not billed on the poster is Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the founder and head of the Institute of Magic, Roy Preston. Filmed in early 2017, by the end of that year Tambor had been accused of misconduct by multiple women, swiftly losing jobs on a variety of projects including Disney’s Tangled: The Series and Star vs. the Forces of Evil and causing controversy with the promotion of Fox’s fifth season of Arrested Development on Netflix. The cancelation of Jeffrey Tambor seems to have brought down an entire Disney film where he plays a supporting character, certainly a disservice to the rest of the film’s cast, crew, and creative team. Particularly for the kids, many of whom make their screen debut here, the decision to cancel the release must’ve been heartbreaking.
Produced on a low budget for a Disney film and with Tambor’s role not a dominating factor, it seems odd that Disney decided back in 2018 to simply cut their losses rather than try to salvage the film. Reshoots would’ve been required, but some digitally trickery could’ve swapped him out of larger scenes with a cast of rapidly aging kids. At any rate, it’s here now with Tambor intact and whatever lingering controversies follow at a time when there’s a new movement to cancel “Cancel culture” are really for the viewer to decide.
Time can’t erase the huge disservice that was done to Magic Camp by the personal problems of one man’s behavior outside of the project, but wrongs are somewhat righted by the Disney+ release. It’s likely not destined to become anybody’s favorite film of all time, but it’s a fine family-friendly film at a time when the world needs it most.
I give Magic Camp 3.5 out of 5 scenes filmed at Golden Oak Ranch.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.