“campy: describe something that has a ridiculous, wacky appeal. Some movies are so exaggeratedly bad they've got a campy kind of charm”vocabulary(dot)com
In our basement, where we have a few gymnastic mats, our daughter recently executed her first one-handed cartwheel during her Zoom gymnastics practice. I’ve seen this six-year-old ask me to tickle her till she can’t breathe anymore, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt her this excited. She ran up to me, jumping up and down, telling me, “I did it, I did it.”
After gymnastics practice, we headed upstairs for an afternoon movie with mangoes (they’re in season) and microwave popcorn. My daughter chose her latest favorite gymnastics movie, A Second Chance: Rivals! Halfway through the movie, pausing in-between scenes, she practices her one-handed cartwheels.
If you have a child, tween, or young teenager you'd like to introduce to gymnastics,
or who is already passionate about gymnastics, I recommend the Australian writer and director Clay Glen's movies. In addition to the theme of gymnastics, his movies also explore issues that many of our kids, tweens, and teens are familiar with, such as bullying, self-image, social pressure, teamwork, and friendship.
Let’s check out four of his movies and some of the lessons that come with them.
Top Summer Gymnastic Movies for Kids
A 2nd Chance
Summary— A 2nd Chance follows the lives of three middle school gymnast friends, Maddy, Erin, and Kayla. When Beverly, their coach, falls ill, she asks Kate, a former child gymnast herself, to coach their team at Coreega Gymnastics. While the best friends train together with their new coach, Maddy struggles with a lack of confidence. Chelsea, the top gymnast of their archrivals, the Saints, teases Maddy at school about her performance and crush on a boy. With thumping music and a montage of scenes with the girls training, Coreega defeats the Saints at an important championship competition. In the end, Chelsea apologizes for her mean-girl behavior. Maddy and Chelsea also forgive each other, which is important because both girls, Maddy, who placed first, and Chelsea, who placed second, are accepted to the Australian National Gymnastics team.
For Kids— This is the first Clay Glen movie we watched with our then five-year-old daughter. Because the gymnasts are in middle school, somewhere between 11 and 14 years old, our daughter quickly identified with Maddy and her friends as they struggled, and ultimately won, the final competition. Our daughter, at this time, was in her second year of gymnastics lessons in Delhi. While she wasn't yet on the bars or beam, for example, she quickly related her experience to the exercises, training, and competitions in the movie. Within the third or fourth viewing, she was practicing her own similar moves in front of the TV.
For Adults— Released in 2013, A 2nd Chance is recommended by Common Sense Media for ages 9 and up. A few of the more difficult scenes include:
- Beverly’s heart attack. While
the scene is not gratuitous, she does fall to the ground. We do see her well in
the hospital, later.
- Chelsea teasing and bullying Maddy. Chelsea is the star gymnast at the start of the movie and wins all the competitions until the final. She is not nice to Maddy, and there are examples of mean-girl and bullying behavior, but nothing physical.
- While there isn’t any swearing, the girls do call each other names like “brat” and “witch.”
- Kate and her boyfriend and fellow coach Shane do share a kiss, and there is a scene where Maddy does stuff her bra with tissue.
While our daughter was five when she first saw the movie, we personally did not have any problem with watching it with her. While she did have some questions about the mean-girl behavior, we found this a good time to relate what she saw in the movie as to why it's important to be kind and to tell an adult or us her parents if she ever experiences any behavior like this. Of course, only parents can decide when it is appropriate to discuss topics like these.
Why I Love the Movie— I did not immediately fall in love with this movie. It was only through multiple viewings, and my daughter’s love for the gymnastics and the characters, did I slowly let go of the amateurish editing, graphics, and at times, cheesy acting.
Another reason I fell in love with A 2nd Chance and the other Clay Glen movies are the positive messages and themes. In A 2nd Chance, some of these themes include:
- Friendship and Teamwork— The friendship between Maddy, Erin and
Kayla is fun, sincere, and supportive.
- Bullying and Mean-Girl Behavior— The movie does a great job of not overemphasizing or dramatizing the bullying and mean-girl behavior. It's quite evident by the end of the film why this kind of behavior is wrong. The movie also does a great job of explaining why bullies are insecure and mean-spirited.
- Overcoming Obstacles—Practice, teamwork, and not giving up are three qualities the girls share that help them win the final tournament.
One last reason I love these movies are the gymnastic and training scenes. Nothing is over the top or especially difficult. As a result, our daughter hasn’t developed any unrealistic expectations regarding her own gymnastics practice.
A Second Chance Rivals!
Summary— A 2ND Chance: Rivals! is the sequel to A 2nd Chance. Several of the characters return, including Maddy, Kate, Beverly, Shane, and Sally. Ten years later, we find Maddy has recently injured herself on the beam during Olympic team tryouts. With her dream of joining the Olympic Team this year gone, she drives to her old coach Beverly’s home to figure out her next move while recuperating from her injury. Beverly, who now lives in rural Australia, takes Maddy in and recruits her to coach the competitive team from North Flinders. Like Maddy’s first team of Erin and Kayla, the North Flinders team of Tess, Alkira, and Tayla, are around the same age. Becky, one of the original members of the Saints team in A 2nd Chance, coaches their archrival team from Ariel. After an unfortunate turn of events and Beverly’s passing, Maddy and the team pull together to defeat Ariel in the National Championship.
For Kids—If you and your kid loved A 2nd Chance, you absolutely can’t go wrong with A 2nd Chance Rivals! Our daughter, now six years old, loves reenacting some of the floor routine moves and knows much of the dialogue by heart. The movie's structure is similar to the original, but has its own set of twists and turns and themes that help differentiate the movies. At the same time, the thumping music, gymnastics, and the friendship between girls tie the movies together.
For Adults— Released in 2019, A 2nd Chance Rivals is rated by the Australian Council on Children and the Media for ages 9 and up. Some of the more difficult scenes include:
- Li of the Ariel team calls Tayla
on a gymnastics internet chat group, “clumsy and dumpy.” In turn, these
negative comments affect Tayla’s body image and eating habits. Maddy, and
especially Alkira, help Tayla rethink her body image and ignore Li and the
Saints on the chat board. After the national tournament, Maddy resolves cyber-bullying
by talking about the issue with both teams and their coach Becky.
- Beverly, who is ill in A 2nd Chance, dies. She doesn’t let anyone know she’s not well. Both Maddy and Tessa feel guilty about her death but can resolve these feelings at the funeral.
- Alkira’s mom, who was a gymnast as a child, experienced racism because of her aboriginal ancestry. Racism becomes one of the central themes of Rivals, with Alkira's mom pulling her from the team for a period of time to protect Alkira from racism.
- While there isn’t any swearing, the girls do call each other names like “fat," "ugly," "sulky," and "useless."
While our daughter is only six, as parents, we decided to watch both movies with her to judge for ourselves if they were appropriate. While she did have some questions about Beverly’s passing, Tayla’s self-image, and the racism Alkira’s mom experienced, we are comfortable discussing these issues and the issues in A 2nd Chance withour daughter. For me, it's up to parents which themes are age-appropriate for their kid.
Why I Love This Movie— One of the criticisms of Clay Glen’s movies is the “campy” feel they have and the less than award-winning acting that comes with them. However, for me, the themes Clay introduces and how he resolves these issues within the context of gymnastics and later cheering in Going for Gold are, dare I say, masterful. In A 2nd Chance Rivals! we renew thethemes of friendship-teamwork, bullying behavior, and overcoming obstacles we found in A 2nd Chance. In Rivals! we move onto another set of themes: self and body image, death, and racism. Clay explores these issues and themes in a straightforward, didactic, and unambiguous way that makes the message clear. While life seldom reflects this “Happily Ever After” fairy tale ending, this is precisely how you'd want to introduce and explore these themes and issues with kids. Simple and straightforward within a context, like gymnastics and cheering, that holds kids' interest.
Going for Gold and Raising the Bar
My advice is to start with A 2nd Chance and A 2nd Chance Rivals!. If your kid falls in love with those movies, then I’d say, ready yourself for the same formula, and the most part, themes. While Raising the Bar (2016)does include Emily Morris, who does play Maddy in both 2nd Chance movies, this is an entirely different storyline. And Going for Gold (2018), which also stars Emily Morris, while very similar to the other three movies in tone, themes, and style is focused on cheerleading, with elements of gymnastics, hip hop, and belly dancing! Yes, belly dancing! In both Going for Gold and Raising the Bar Disney’s very own Kelli Berglund of Disney Lab Rats fame stars.
How to Watch These Films
A 2nd Chance, Raising the Bar, and Going for Gold are all available on Netflix. While A 2nd Chance Rivals! and others can also be rented or bought wherever you stream videos.
Reviews and Campiness
It’s been fun writing this blog and discovering what other reviewers and parents have to say about these films. And yes, I said films!
While many of the reviews are quite critical, not one of them comes close to capturing the joy and inspiration our daughter has experienced through these films. This is one of those instances that if your son or daughter has any kind of interest in gymnastics, I recommend checking them out.
At the end of the definition of "campy" in the dictionary, there should a note that says, “see Clay Glen’s movies.” And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that. Yes, they’re exaggerated and predictable. What kid’s movie isn’t? Is it as fun for parents as Shrek or Minions or Frozen (all my personal favorites), nope, but then again, my kid is the most important critic when it comes to movies she enjoys. And she loves Clay’s work.
I’ve also learned to appreciate them for their campiness, the dialogue, the graphics, the angles the movies use. And the discussions they’ve started between our daughter and us about body image, mean girls, and working hard to overcome obstacles has been more substantive than any other kid’s movie we’ve watched together as a family.
I honestly didn’t know what Common Sense Media and the Australian Council on Children and the Media rated these movies before watching them. We were simply looking up gymnastic movies on Netflix that we thought might further inspire our daughter when her interest in gymnastics was waning a bit. I based our decision to check it out on the description of the movie, not what it was rated. I'm sure there was a suggested age range, but I obviously didn’t look close enough. And in this case, I’m glad I didn’t reject these movies without seeing them.
One of the big lessons I’ve learned from writing this blog is, it is up to parents to decide what is age-appropriate and not age-appropriate for their children. If you’re worried that your child is younger than the suggested age range, but from the movie’s description or someone’s suggestion you think the movie might be a good fit, watch it first. Either way, and this is the best lesson, watch every movie the first time through together with your child. You can observe how they’re reacting, answer any questions they have, and be confident the next ten times they watch the movie, while practicing their floor routine, they will be just fine.
If you have movie suggestions your kids love, or examples of how you ensure the movies you allow your kids watch are age-appropriate, please share in the comments below.