A Larger Than Life Theory Behind the Disney Movie Heavyweights
The Disney movie Heavyweights, written by Judd Apatow and it’s director Steven Brill, has that perfect comedic timing and movement that you would expect from the writing of Apatow, with an unexpected underlying theme which is both hauntingly familiar and yet made fresh (but still oh so relevant) through the eyes of youngsters.
Let me just throw this out into the universe: Heavyweights is actually a brilliant commentary on the horrors of WWII, more specifically the internment and eventual attempted genocide of millions of people. I find the film very anecdotal, but can't be sure that this was the intention of the film maker. Just stick with me here.
So the main character Gerry Garner, a young plus sized teen, finds himself at a self proclaimed “fat camp” called Camp Hope despite his grumblings about how he just wanted to chill for the summer. After seeing the promotional video, he decided to take the chance and at least appease his parents. I feel this is in direct reference to the propaganda created to mislead and ensnare the so-called “undesirables.”
By the time Gerry made it to Camp Hope, he understands that he’s not the only fat kid, everyone’s the fat kid. A big plus- the other campers smuggled in enough contraband treats to last them the summer! Many Jewish families continued to practice their faith under the cover of night and in the shadows. Additionally, there is a very creepy and ominous kid at the gates of the camp that definitely put the other campers on edge. Myself included.
To everyone’s shock and surprise, the original owners have lost Camp Hope due to bankruptcy and it has already changed hands – to an energetic, charismatic, if not creepy Tony Perkis. Perkis is a fitness focused monsterpreneur, and having been a former fat kid himself, he’s vowed to turn these youngsters’ lives around with his weight loss program Perkisizing. He believes he can make their success the central focus of the best national weight loss infomercial. He seems truly sociopolitical and relentless and I believe we can draw a few parallel lines to Adolf Hitler and his charistmatic personality and dangerous, elitist delusions.
Having been a fat kid, he knows of all the places the campers have probably already stashed their candies and chocolates. After tossing their cabins and confiscating everything they could find.
Perkis's right hand man, Lars who claims he’s from “Far Away” in a rich European accent when asked about his origin, gets started on the summer long fitness regimen meant to help both them and the campers.
The techniques and intensity of the work outs prove too much for some campers, and many desperate letters are written and sent home within the first few weeks. To their horror, they’ve discovered their letters have been intercepted and kept from the post by the new camp counselors! Many Jewish men and women in the ghettos and camps were given special assignments and jobs if they had special skills. Otherwise, they were hard laborers that were rarely compensated. Letters from and to Jewish friends and families were often intercepted and censorship was enforced.
There’s a small light in the darkness in the form of a secret stash they stumble upon at the camp and divulge like there’s no tomorrow, stuffing themselves so full they’re incapacitated. At weigh-in at mid-summer, Tony discovers the campers have actually gained weight since the installment of the program. Steadfast in completing his mission of showing the world that his product works, he tosses them all into a 20 mile hike through the woods, to shed some weight and to gain some discipline. I would liken these scenes to the selfless acts of both Jewish and non-Jewish people hiding and harboring their friends and neighbors the best they could, only to be found out and persecuted all the same. Towards the end of the war when allied forces were closing in, many prisoners were forced into "death marches" where they would walk 20-30 miles to another location. Many didn't survive the trip, most were executed as soon as they arrived to their destination.
But the campers have a surprise for Tony. They fashion a deep pit for him to fall into, and although severely injured, he’s taken back to camp and imprisoned in a chicken wire cell, electrified by a bug zapper! Many SS Soldiers were actually held captive at the end of the war in their own liberated camps.
While parents are visiting, they watch a video of how brutal camp life has been, meanwhile, Tony happens to escape his prison. Even after some erratic and evasive behavior, he’s still cornered and admonished for a job horribly done at the camp. Tony’s own father shows up to relinquish him from ownership of the camp. The camp is to be closed, and admissions refunded. It wouldn’t be too far fetched that this is the type of footage American and allied soldiers would have witnessed when being educated on the situation in Europe and Asia. Eventually the evil doers are torn down and new powers have been placed.
And just to really reiterate my points, there are scenes towards the end of the movie that feature Lars being tied to a tree and ridiculed, kids dressed as Native Americans coming to assist in saving the day, a character dressed up as Albert Einstein and the King, and a character dressed as the Statue of Liberty who denounces the behavior of the new owners and a character dressed as a Roman is actually driven from the camp as well. There are countless references in this film, but these are just the blaring ones, many can recall without having to re-watch the movie, I think.
Interestingly enough, the name of Gerry’s father in the movie is Maury, which happens to also be the name of Apatow’s own Jewish father whom he has a close relationship with. It was said in an interview that although he lived in a Jewish, but not religious home, he had many questions about spirituality.
By the end of the movie, the boys don’t want to let go of Camp Hope and Pat has been awarded as director of the camp. In one last traditional activity, Camp Hope hosts campers from a neighboring camp in a classic baseball game, something Camp Hope has always lost. But this year, the campers have something they didn’t have until this year- hope and a love of the game. To the other camp’s dismay, Camp Hope wins the trophy and their sense of empowerment, even tossing the trophy in the lake as a symbol of their new found freedom. Those that did survive the holocaust yet lost almost everything had the option to come to America where they could start over and have the opportunities to live in freedom and liberty.
In absolute earnest, Heavyweights is a great film that I’ve only just recently seen for the first time. I think it’s got a great message, it’s a lot of fun for kids, and it’s a great commentary on something grizzly, yet very important part of our world’s history. It's not at all my intention to ruin the movie for you, whether or not you can really agree with the theory, just food for thought. What do you guys think?