- Written by John Cherry
- May 22, 1987
Ernest P. Worrell must save Kamp Kikakee from evil Krader Mining by stopping its plans to take over the camp.
Ernest Goes to Camp is a family friendly comedy that at multiple points is genuinely funny. It accomplishes this by not only NOT talking down to its intended audience but aiming to entertain. It does not hit you repeatedly over the head with its themes of acceptance and teamwork.
Jim Varney is the lovable Ernest P. Worrell. Part of the effectiveness of the character is he proceeds with the best of intentions and a pure heart. His mistakes or just whatever he does is not done because he is stupid but because he is naïve.
Other than the character of Ernest there is no real connecting thread between any of the Ernest films. He’s the same character in a completely new situation from film to film so you can watch them completely out of order. Was this the first big screen multi-verse? The world may never know…
Here Ernest is a camp handyman at Camp Kikakee. He has aspirations of becoming a camp counselor, but he just can’t quite make it happen.
Kamp Kikakee is coveted by a local mining corporation that seeks to mine the vein that stretches under the camp and sell the material to defense contractors around the world and make a fortune. You couldn’t get a much better evil corporate head at the time than John Vernon as Sherman Krader. He had the voice, look, and delivery to play jerky authoritarian figures and is probably best known for doing that.
And if you were going to have a Native American in a movie you probably couldn’t do better than Iron Eyes Cody (Espera Oscar de Corti) as Chief St. Cloud (even though the dude was Italian). It was many years after this movie that I found it out that he was as Italian as the real Chef Boyardee, but the man did it so well and not as a joke that you would be hard pressed to realize he was not.
But let’s get back to the movie. Ernest Goes to Camp is a family friendly comedy and in it Ernest is put in charge of a group of trouble youths who are sent to the camp as part of that state’s governor’s Second Chance initiative for troubled youths. Naturally they run rings around Ernest and doing things to him that if was not just this side of a cartoon would have killed him.
The Second Chance kids encounter bullies and they bully back and they fight back but they continue to get in trouble and by the end of the film they have earned the respect of the boys. It is in part by standing up to them and in part by showing the boys they care as much about the camp as the boys do. I’m not sure what kind of message that there exactly sends but it sends a message.
There are plenty of jokes and despite it being family friendly comedy many of them land quite well still. Eggs erroneous. Anything involving Jim Varney’s robbery face. And a personal favorite is the running gag of the camp golf cart that at the start of the film drives off on its own and is zipping around clear through to the end credits. Nobody even notices it in the film. They let it pass and continue on with their lives and the film.
I remember seeing this in theaters. I don’t think it was crowded but I remember not only the theater enjoying it but my family enjoying it as well. Ernest was and still is a very much a niche product. Varney was great not only as a comedic actor but he had some dramatic talent as well. He just never quite got the recognition he deserved. For a silly movie they have a rather touching song.
It’s called “Gee I’m Glad It’s Raining.” It comes on when the camp is in jeopardy of being leveled by the mining company and the characters are at a loss on what to do. Varney’s voice and performance drive home the emotion of the moment and the song.
The finale of this film is a culmination of a rather well-done script. Everything moves towards the resolution with hints of what is to happen dropped during the narrative. It’s not just a wrap it up. You know somehow Krader Industries was going to make a play that worked to an extent for the camp and that’s exactly what happens. In order to save the camp Ernest and the kids and the bully kids launch a ridiculous over the top attack complete with paratrooper turtles on the crews sent by the mining company.
The closing moments of the attack though are when Ernest faces off against Krader and it’s a call back to two moments earlier in the movie about the ceremony that the tribe whose land they are on went through to become men and warriors. In that respect Ernest’s kids as well as Ernest grow into maturity.
Ernest Goes to Camp is a fun and family friendly comedy that is still funny. It’s some silly mindless entertainment that you can watch by yourself or watch with your kids. Whichever you choose I strongly suggest you watch it!