You want to talk about magic, it looks like Disney dumped their latest live-action family comedy, Magic Camp, out of nowhere this week where there was little to no marketing until we finally got footage of the long-delayed movie that will probably make people want to try their hand at magic for themselves. Including me, because there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know more about magic, right?
What’s the Story: Andy Duckerman (Adam Devine) is a down-on-his-luck magician who is given the chance to be a counselor at his childhood magic camp Institute of Magic, a secluded mountain retreat where young kids are trained to become the next big magicians, by his former mentor and owner Roy Preston (Jeffrey Tambor). He’s nowhere near the level of success like his former partner and rival, Kristina Darkwood (Gillian Jacobs), who also is a counselor, but wants to regain that feeling of his passion for this skill. Since Andy is training a ragtag group of newbies magicians, he’s all they got to prepare them to compete in the camp’s annual Top Hat magic contest at the end of the summer.
Magic Camp was a Disney property I’ve heard about for a few years since they originally scheduled it to be in theaters back in 2018 after filming was complete a year before, then the studio took it off its schedule and was, basically, stuck in limbo until it had the right date to be seen. I always assumed it was going to debut on the Disney+ platform, but I’m pretty sure nobody expected this to be on the streaming service this weekend. The trailer didn’t impress me as I had the right to be nervous about this coming out of nowhere. And it’s another movie from Disney where it was meant to be in theaters, like Noelle, and put it out online, anyway. Did I hate myself for watching it? I didn’t, as it wasn’t the worst movie to come from the studio this year, along with it not being a total waste of my time considering this was an alright comedy revolving around magic better than what The Incredible Burt Wonderstone failed to be.
You hear about the premise, and you already know what you’re going to see. We’ve seen something like this a million times before, especially in comedy, where you have this team of underdogs who are competing against the already skilled thespians at what they represent. But with a little heart and dedication, they can be the best, holding hands and being the best they can accomplish. There’s nothing new about it here with Magic Camp. Even past Disney movies like HeavyWeights (the ultimate guilty pleasure from the studio) used it to better usage or non-Disney movies like School of Rock or The Internship. However, that doesn’t mean it’s terrible despite not saying it’s a movie you have to stop what you’re doing to and go to Disney+ right away.
As for the performances, there wasn’t anybody who completely tanks the movie down pegs. Adam Devine delivers a serviceable role as Andy, and if you’re a fan of the comedian, the laughs will come your way since he plays the same character he always plays in television or movies. Speaking of which, was I the only American who paid to see the very forgettable flop that was Jexi last fall? Maybe so. Gillian Jacobs (still beautiful) didn’t have much to do with her character, but she was good, and though I’m surprised Jeffrey Tambor was still in this after the different allegations against him, there was something about his performance I didn’t hate him, especially when he’s on-screen with Devine.
Even our kids who want to learn about magic did the best they could with the material they had to work with, even when there’s no much to some of them. The only two I’m familiar with were Cole Sand (who was Nelson on Austin & Ally) as Nathan and J.J. Totah (or Josie Totah now) as Judd. The one who’s the main focus and introduced first out of everyone was Nathaniel McIntyre’s character Theo Moses, who’s very talented with his card tricks after learning from his late father. I surprisingly dug his character, and the scenes he shares with Devine were good.
Because of how cliche it was with the story, I thought about how different everything would’ve been if it took place in a world where magic was part of our everyday world and Devine’s character has to put these kids into shape or something. If you know what’s going to happen, there’s not a point of watching this. But if you’re like me and are a sucker for the magic stuff, a glance won’t hurt. Seriously, I have a soft spot for people specializing in magic like David Blaine or Chris Angel, so I was knotting my head with approval whenever someone does a trick of their own.
It wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be. The laughs came in after an hour, but not where there were jokes were cracking me up; they were mostly chuckles-worthy jokes that could make kids get it. There was even a rabbit multiplying joke I saw coming when one kid noticed there were more rabbits before. What I wasn’t expecting at all was how it takes some heart and provide some sprinkled moments to know the backstories of the characters and why they are at the camp in the first place. Director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) and the collage of writers (Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Matt Spicer, Max Winkler, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand) aren’t exactly having these actors speak from the most original writing in the world, but you get this sense of knowing what this was meant to be for. Not only for those who have been a fan of magic for a long time, but also believing in yourself enough to know you’re capable of doing whatever comes to mind. This would’ve been like a modern hit at the box office if it came out in the mid-2000s, but considering it didn’t have a big budget, it still had the chance to bomb from my perspective.
Is this going to be a Disney movie worth remembering in the upcoming week? Probably not. And not everybody will like it, which is very understandable. But, to my surprise, Magic Camp wasn’t the disaster I expected to be. I thought it was fine. Sure, the story is very predictable, and the laughs weren’t entirely there until later on. But it’s a family-friendly comedy offering some impressive magic tricks to entertain those who love it and has some genuine heart earned. This is another example of a move on the studio of making this suited on the small screen as it’s something the family can be entertained by for two hours, and there’s a chance you won’t hate it.