Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)

"All aboard that's going ashore!"

Who would have thought that a simple commercial would turn into a line of successful films?? Certainly the guys at Geico thought so...

Back in the late 80s and early 90s Jim Varney shot to stardom just from some commercials he made. Ernest P. Worrell was a commercial star who hocked pretty much anything. Before anyone knew it, he was a movie star. "Ernest Goes to Camp" was the first in a long line of Ernest films to be released. Jim Varney, of course, starred in the Touchstone Pictures film. In this film Ernest finds himself at a camp as a handy man, but he wants more, he wants to be a camp counselor. When a group of "Second Chance" kids come to the camp, the counselors decide to allow Ernest to take them under his wing. Hilarity ensues. In the meantime, a construction group is trying to buy the land the camp is on so they can build on it.

In my opinion this is the best Ernest film. It was the first and the best looking (being the only one of them shot in scope [2.35:1]). The jokes in it are very much like those in the other films. Varney had a knack for playing this character and he evidently loved it (he supposedly was filming an Ernest film when he died that was never finished or released). Being the first in the series it's missing a few things that became staples of the following films, mostly Varney playing numerous goofy characters and speaking directly to the camera. The film also has a moment that is not to be seen ever again in any of the other films, that scene being a small musical number from Varney. It's a touching song towards the middle of the song, but it feels very out of place in the movie.

Overall it's kind of hard to explain the impact of the character and the movies to current day audiences. The films were a very big part of my childhood. Five of the films (Goes to Camp, Saves Christmas, Goes to Jail, Scared Stupid and Rides Again) were theatrical films, while four of the films (Goes to School, Slam Dunk, Goes to Africa and In the Army) were direct to video films. Nonetheless the films remained funny though the last 2 lost something along the line. But everything comes back to "Goes to Camp". The Ernest character was so big that he had his own Saturday morning TV show ("Hey Vern, It's Ernest!").

"Goes to Camp" was funny enough to spawn more sequels though the films weren't incredibly successful. For their budgets they were successful but never broke any records. Nevertheless, without these films Jim Varney may have never had the career he did and we would have never had Slinky Dog in "Toy Story".