Welcome back as we continue into the mid to late 90s with LRM’s Retro-Specs! Disney has also been a power house in the movie industry, but really made some classics in the 90s. Our very own Kyle Malone went down memory lane with the lovable Mighty Ducks. So let’s take a look at one of the best Disney classics, 1995’s Heavyweights.
Everyone knows Disney for their kid-centric films. Many are sports-oriented about the archetypal underdog overcoming adversity such as The Mighty Ducks and Big Green. Heavyweights brings the audience the same underdog type story, but in a different, fresh way.
Heavyweights is the story of a rag-tag group of overweight kids whose parents send them to Camp Hope for the summer. The idea is to have fun while shedding some of those excessive pounds. 11-year-old Gerry Garner reluctantly heads to camp which is owned by the extremely kind Mr. and Mrs. Bushkins (Mr. Bushkins is portrayed by the late Jerry Stiller). While he knows it’s a “fat camp” some of it doesn’t seem so bad until the Bushkins file for bankruptcy. They go on to sell the camp to the formerly obese, and current fitness guru, Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller). Perkis plans on recording the camp’s results for an infomercial to benefit from. From there, Gerry and friends look to take the camp back from Perkis and overthrow the jock camp (Camp MVP) by the end of summer.
Disney does a good job of casting kids for their films. The acting may not always be the best, but they sure are memorable. Keeping with what (or who) works, Aaron Schwartz as Gerry Garner, Shaun Wiess as Josh Burnbaum, and Kenan Thompson as Roy all starred in The Mighty Ducks franchise as well. Other recognizable 90s kid actors make up the rest of Camp Hope. Memorable adult counselors are Tom McGowen as Pat Finley, Paul Fieg as Tim, and Leah Lail as nurse Julie.
The combination of some “veteran” actors in the Disney realm blends well with the adult cast and a true bond looks to be formed between the group. There is also the antagonist who really makes the film.
I may take some heat for this, but I feel that Heavyweights is one of Ben Stiller’s best roles. He completely owns the role of Tony Perkis. He often plays over the top characters, but he really nails it with Perkis! Taking over the camp as a former obese kid, Perkis wants to profit off of his master plan to get the kids to drop massive weight. But at what cost? He cancels meals, has them run and hike excessive amounts as well as scaling mountains. He and his counselors are no nonsense when it comes to losing weight.
Stiller shows the opposite side of fitness when it is no longer just for health, but turns to obsession. He jumps off a cliff, swings on a tree limb, breaks glass and walks across it bare foot. My favorite part is when he is running, stops, goes back and sees a log and say, “Come on you devil log!” as he throws it above his head to run. The man is wild.
Tom Hodges is hilarious as Lars, Perkis’ right hand man. Before he turns to join the kids, Perkis and Lars truly make good villains. The kids were already not thrilled to go to a fat camp let alone being forced into extreme fitness rather than gradual, or fun, activities obviously has to opposite effect. This eventually leads to Perkis’ downfall.
What really works for Heavyweights is that most of the original counselors are former participants of Camp Hope and have been in the shoes of the current group of kids. They are just as upset when the camp is taken over by the fitness-crazed Perkis. The kids want him out, and so do the adults, but they also go to show the kids that you can’t just do whatever you want to get your way.
The counselors slowly feel pushed to the side by Perki’s new group of fit counselors. This probably brings back feelings of neglect they felt as kids from those more fit than them. Their bond with the kids intensifies because of this. This can be seen in the awkward dance with the girls’ camp when the counselors begin to show the kids how to be comfortable with who they are rather than what others think.
At one point, Lars defects to the side of the kids and they actually capture Perkis. The kids then take over the camp and splurge one night on all the junk food they want leading to them all sugar crashing until morning. This is when Pat Finley takes back the lead role of the camp he deserves. He tells the kids that they have the choice to eat whatever they want, but they also have a responsibility to manage what they eat and make smart decisions. It does not mean that they have to always be 100% healthy, but that they need to be smart of what, how much, and when they eat to live healthier lifestyles. He teaches the kids to love who they are, but to also be responsible.
After this catharsis, the kids have to prepare for the end of summer competition verses Camp MVP. It’s a jock camp who usually win the trophy each summer. While the competition does contain elements of athletics, it also is a battle of wits among other wild competitions such as shaving a balloon and the epic go-kart finale! Of course Camp Hope wins! But it is more than that. The competition shows that life is more than just looks, athletics, and money, but about being a well-rounded individual, which is why they won. That’s also why they throw the trophy into the lake! Camp Hope doesn’t need a trophy to show them what is important. They may not have lost much weight, Gerry’s dad says that to his mom when he first sees Gerry at the end of the summer. But, what they did learn can last a lifetime.
ALSO SEE: The Mighty Ducks Still Totally Rules! | LRM’s Retro-Specs
Are you a fan of Heavyweights? Do you think it’s one of Disney’s best films of the 90s? Do you agree that it’s one of Ben Stiller’s best? Leave your thoughts in the usual place, and thanks for reading!
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