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Film / Ernest Goes to Camp

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A family comedy from 1987, Ernest Goes to Camp is the first of the Ernest P. Worrell series of movies. It introduced the Ernest character onto the big screennote  and launched the movie career of the late Jim Varney.

Ernest is a handyman at Camp Kikakee who wants to become a camp counselor, but his clumsiness and absent-mindedness keep getting in the way. Eventually, he is put in charge of a group of juvenile delinquents whom no one else wants to tolerate, and he wins their begrudging respect with the help of the camp's owner, Chief Saint Cloud, and his granddaughter, the camp nurse.

The camp's future is in danger, however, when an unscrupulous mining corporation discovers that the camp sits on top of a rare mineral deposit. Using the unwitting Ernest as a proxy, they trick the Chief into signing over the deed to the land. Can Ernest and his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits successfully save the camp from destruction?


This film provides examples of:

  • A-Team Montage: An excellent example. There's nothing better to kick greedy miners off your land than improvised war machines built to the tune of a pumping 1980's power ballad.
  • Afraid of Needles: Ernest goes through some outrageous antics to avoid getting an immunization shot.
  • Amoral Attorney: Subverted—Krader's lawyer persistently tries to talk his client out of his various dirty deeds, even when he is within his legal rights.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Gee I'm Glad It's Raining"
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Ernest himself, once he's pushed far enough. "They ain't gonna get this camp!"
  • Big Bad: Sherman Krader is the Corrupt Corporate Executive who aims to destroy the camp to get his hands on the rare mineral deposit underneath.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Ernest and Chief St. Cloud, along with sign language.
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  • Book-Ends: Ernest monologuing about what it means to be a camp counselor, and then falling off a ladder.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Ernest's first monologue.
  • The Bully: Two campers bully the boys quite a bit. Before they arrive, they bully Ernest. Their establishing character moment has them shutting the bus window on his hands, while they also mention that they've mistreated Ernest on past trips. When the boss tells everyone to welcome the boys, the bullies say that he's the biggest dork at the camp. But the bullies eventually join the boys in saving the camp.
  • Character Action Title
  • Chekhov's Gun: The maintenance cart that always gets away from Ernest.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sherman Krader.
  • Death from Above: Snapping turtles with parachutes. Set to Ride of the Valkyries!
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A bunch of greedy white men out to steal the land of Native Americans.
  • Edible Ammunition: Edible explosives, too.
  • A Father to His Men: Although Ernest clearly isn't the father to any of the boys in camp, in his own simple-mindedness and naive innocence, he certainly feels like a father figure to them, even though they spent much of their time earlier in the movie pulling all kinds of devious stunts to make a fool of himself.
  • Fisheye Lens: This movie loves them.
  • Homemade Inventions: Ernest builds a barbecue which he operates using a length of fire hose cord attached to his foot, which ends up wrapping around the roasting spit and nearly dragging Ernest into the fire. Then there's the whole armory that Ernest and his troop build at the climax of the film. Then there's the two cooks and their Wonka-esque lunch machine.
  • Improvised Weapon: Tons in the Grand Finale.
  • It's All My Fault: After the boys get into a fight and are almost kicked out of camp, Ernest says it's his fault because he should have been a better councilor, while his boss says it's his own fault because he thought Ernest could be a good councilor.
  • It's Personal: Krader deciding to take matters into his own hands.
  • Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot: The boys at camp play cruel pranks on Ernest, and then force him to enter a fist fight with a construction worker 10 times stronger than he is to fight for their camp. Only then when their camp is in serious danger of being closed down forever for land development do they put aside their hostility for Ernest and start treating him like a true friend.
  • Karma Houdini: The two campers who bully the last chance kids never seem to get punished by the camping staff for their actions, which include tripping Moose and setting their tepee on fire. The last chance kids fight back in both instances and seem to be the only ones to get punished, nearly getting sent back to the detention center after the last incident. However, the bullies do join them in saving the camp at the end.
    • This is lampshaded when the kids are punished with digging while the bullies taunt them. ("This isn't fair! They tripped Moose!")
    • Played with regarding Krader. While his plans were foiled, there is no mention of him even being arrested for defrauding the chief into signing paperwork or shooting at Ernest in broad daylight.note 
  • Kid-Appeal Character: Moose, the youngest of the "last chance kids", appears to be this. While the rest of them tend to be generic troublemakers, he's the only one with a real personality, being a generally nice kid (and there's no clue as to why he was in the detention center in the first place) and the first of them to like Ernest (after Ernest saves him from drowning).
  • Last of His Kind: Nurse St. Cloud tells Krader that she and her grandfather are the only remaining members of their Native American tribe.
  • Lethal Chef: Jake and Eddie. Their 'abilities' and their Liver-Loaf Lunch Arranger are actually weaponized in the finale, bombarding the miners with concoctions like "graham cracker bouillabaisse" fired at high velocity. Not to mention the fact that Jake's Eggs Erroneous contains enough explosive power to take out a bulldozer.
    • As it turns out during the credits scenes, getting one of their infamous recipes right has some... interesting effects.
  • Manly Tears
  • Meaningful Name/Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Krader (read: crater) Mining Associates, Inc.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Ernest suffers one at the hands of Krader's enforcer.
    • He and the boys then deliver one to Krader's entire force.
  • Parental Bonus: At one point while being tortured with a booster shot, Ernest blurts out, "I DID IT! I TOOK THE LINDBERGH BABY! I AM JOSEPH MENGELE!"
    • During the credits sequence, Jake's new experimental recipe turns Eddie into Roberto Bianco. It's pretty unlikely any of the pre-teens in the target audience would know who he was.
  • Phony Veteran: To bolsters the kids' morale during a hike, Ernest makes some rather dubious claims about his experiences in 'Nam.
  • Pyromaniac: Ernest is implied to be one, judging by scene where he stares at a lit match in ecstasy until somebody interrupts him.
  • Reality Ensues: Ernest's blunt approach of threatening the construction workers backfires horribly when the massive foreman takes him up on the invitation to a fistfight. Despite the cartoonish slapstick in the movie, this sequence has Ernest take a pretty realistic and brutal beating.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Nurse St. Cloud chews the boys out something fierce for not having faith in Ernest. This leads to a collective Heel–Face Turn.
  • Recycled In Space: Pristine land, owned by Natives, under threat from a mining company looking for a rare mineral? You're either describing this film or Avatar.
  • Rule of Three: The Native American warrior, in the story told in the beginning, survives the knife, rock, and arrow. Also Ernest in the ending, surviving three shots from Krader's rifle.
  • Running Gag: "...Is that a rabbit over there...?" (Said whenever Ernest wants to get away from something.)
    • Jake and Eddie trying to reverse-engineer the recipe for eggs erroneous. At the end of the movie, they don't seem any closer to their goal.
  • Sad-Times Montage: "Gee, I'm glad it's raining..."
  • Saving the Orphanage: The camp, in this case.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!:
    • Krader deciding to shoot Ernest. Exactly how did he plan to get away with that?
    • How did Krader expect to get away with forcibly evicting people via bulldozer? Krader seems to be under the impression he's invulnerable. By the end of it, everyone thinks he's insane.
  • Shout-Out: During a Rousing Speech to the second-chancers, Ernest encourages them "to boldly go where no man has gone before."
  • Slobs vs. Snobs
  • Smurfette Principle: Nurse St. Cloud is the only female at Camp Kikakee.
  • This Means Warpaint: Chief St. Cloud paints the faces of Ernest and the boys before the battle. Complete with tribal singing.
  • Tricked Into Signing: Krader tricks the owner of Camp Kikakee, Chief Saint Cloud, into signing ownership of the camp over to him so that he can bulldoze it down.
  • Turtle Power: Turtle paratroopers!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the scene which introduces Krader, a family is trying to keep their home and he physically assaults the father. No mention of what happened to them after that is ever made.
  • Worst Aid: Just another way the boys mess with Ernest.


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