• Matt Dod

Camp WWE isn't as BAD as you think. But it's still pretty bad.



For the video on this topic & more pro wrestling content: Wrestle Pod - YouTube


Summer camp. A place for children and teenagers alike to spend time in the great outdoors, partaking in a host of extra curricular activities and enjoying their youth in the long summer sun. In the US alone summer camps are visited by a reported 11 million people each year, for many a time of growth and great importance during ones adolescence.


But today we are talking about something all together different. This is Camp WWE.


A short-lived animated series which focuses on the lives and stories of several iconic pro wrestlers from the WWE roster, reimagined as school children attending an imaginary summer camp.


Before watching this series, I thought that Camp WWE was merely a cheaply made cartoon aimed at young children. I predicted simple stories and childish humour, with clean jokes and an overall set of family friendly sensibilities.


Now I have seen both series of the 2016 show, I can certainly say that the storylines are indeed simple and the jokes, for the most-part are certainly childish. But, what caught me off guard, happened mere seconds into the first episode, before the title sequence had even played.


This appeared on my screen…


A TV-MA rating, a WWE programme for a supposed mature audience.


And all of a sudden, my hopes for what this lesser watched cartoon may have in store sky-rocketed. This wasn’t aimed at kids. It’s for adults over the age of 18. I’m an adult over the age of 18. That’s me.


I want to take a look at Camp WWE, it’s cast of colourful characters and the passionate pro wrestling fans behind the project and the love they put in to bring this whacky 2D adventure to life.




CREATION


Originally created by Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, Camp WWE was a collaborative effort between pro wrestling monolith, WWE and the studio which brought over animated shows to our screens such a Robot Chicken, SuperMansion and Buddy Thunderstruck as well as a host of other features on Adult Swim.


Stoopid Buddy Stoodios was founded in 2011 by Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, John Harvantine and Eric Towner.


And in the time since, has earned a reputation for creating highly creative animation as a foundation for shows which often feature silly and often low brow humour and a usually a penchant for the edgy, some would say teenage humour which was made mainstream by the likes of fellow animated series Family Guy. This is no coincidence, as Seth Green one of the lead producers of Camp WWE is probably better known for his voice work as Chris from Family Guy.


As WWE decided to allow the new show to feature with a mature rating, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios didn’t want to miss the opportunity to feature something fresh for fans of pro wrestling.


This led to the writing and animation teams having more of a free reign when it came to creating their stories and characters. The entire team was led by the idea of pushing the stars of WWE live action that fans are familiar with further than ever before. Taking them to a different level to try and find a new way of entertaining and indeed shocking the audience.





TITLE SEQUENCE


The friendly warm exterior of the opening credits is a great example of how Camp WWE likes to allow it’s audience to have a certain expectation and then shooting off in an unexpected direction.


The title sequence has a nostalgic feel through it’s brief look around our cast of characters. On the surface it’s a simple summer camp with children playing in the midday sun and a way of introducing us to each characters name through the text displayed on screen.


It has an intentionally cheesy feel, pausing on Vince McMahon bursting out of his cabin and smiling to the camera.


As the woah, woah woah’s of the cheerful backing singers rings out, we get out first look at the idea that this show might not be exactly what it seems on the surface.

At first glance, all of the children look gleeful, with big smiling faces. However, every single scene features the children misbehaving. Just look at Dwayne The Rock Johnson and the Big Show arguing before realising they are on camera, only to be pushed aside by Stone Cold Steve Austin who flips his iconic middle fingers.


John Cena and R-Truth are defacing this cabin before throwing up a smiley high five.

We then see Triple H and Stephanie drying their luscious hair before seeing the Bella Twins toasting marshmallows – only to be interrupted by the ghostly apparition of The Undertaker. The American flag wipes across the screen to reveal 2 legends in Ric Flair and Sgt Slaughter who both pause for a pair of wonderful poses.


It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and as soon as it’s shown us in minimal frames what each character is about, we are left with the ever-so charming and delightfully playful “cheer” from the end of the theme music as a grumpy faced Vince McMahon slams the door in our face and we are away…



ESTABLISHING SHOTS


As I sat back and began to analyse the show after watching through all of the episodes, there was a lot which I liked and much which I did not.


Strangely, and somewhat unpredictably, the one thing that I enjoyed more than anything else, maybe aside from the Vince McMahon segments, which I will get to later, I very much appreciated all of the establishing shots.


The small, beautifully detailed location frames which let us know where the upcoming scene is about to take place. I understand that to most this may be mundane, but come on. Look at how beautiful some of these shots are. The artist’s who worked on these did an amazing job of capturing so much more than simply the objects in the frame.

The time of day, the temperature, the sounds all of these extra sensory cues are expertly delivered through the medium of digital illustration.



STORY


The story of Camp WWE fluctuates from the mundane to the extraordinary and surreal. We see characters having personal conversations around the mess hall dinner table, something which I’m sure anyone who has eaten a meal at school can relate to.


Whilst on the other hand we see wrestlers such as The Undertaker and Jake the Snake able to perform seemingly effortless acts of magic which nobody seems to pay much attention to.


The episodes feature a lose look at different moral issues facing the cast, from loneliness and friendship to the darker themes of alcoholism and death. All without ever getting deep into a topic, with some of the issues merely hinted at in passing.


You won’t learn anything from the lessons in these stories if you are indeed an adult, but after all, that isn’t the point of a relaxed, cartoon like Camp WWE. We aren’t here watching to learn and the story of the shot satisfies as truly turn your brain off entertainment.






HUMOUR


If you don’t find yourself laughing away in the first few minutes of episode one, then Camp WWE over the course of 2 series, will not do much to change your mind. There is certain demographic for this kind of humor. Slapstick prat falls, sexual innuendo and gratuitous use of profanity is not everyone’s cup of tea, and for many reasons.


For me, I am not in anyway offended by this type of humour, furthermore I’m not a massive fan of it either.


It’s refreshing to see characters such as Vince McMahon played by their real life counter parts, saying comedic lines which would not get past the censors on a Monday night.

But aside from that, once you see the level of humour that Camp WWE is aiming for in it’s first episode, the jokes inconsistently float around that level throughout.


I appreciate how subjective humour is. I laughed at several moments in the show and even had parts which really had my belly shaking, but sadly, these moments are extremely thinly spread.


Most of the jokes land to dead silence and when the entire show is based around a relentless onslaught of punchline after punchline, this can become stale quickly.



WRESTLING


Camp WWE is more a show about the activities of those who would one day become pro wrestlers. Rather than choosing to focus on the in-ring activities, which regular WWE broadcasts do enough of, the creators chose to show us another side to this long running universe.


If you are looking for high-flying pro wrestling action then watch NXT, Raw, Smackdown or any one of the numerous other fantastic wrestling promotions around the world.

Because, if Camp WWE is where you are about to turn to get your fix of belly to back suplexs and flips from the top rope, for the most part you will be sorely disappointed.






CHARACTERS


Pro wrestling is widely known for it’s exaggerated characters. Whether it be undead wizards brining lighting down from the roof of an arena, or a large egg hatching to unleash a fearsome turkey wrestler. The creators of Camp WWE do not have to push the personas of these performers any further in order to create outrageous moments for their animation.


With several notable stars of WWE lending their voice performances to the show, we are gifted a few moments of pure pro wrestling nostalgia and a couple of hilarious line reads, as well as the inevitably bad readings which unfortunately hamper ever episode.

Nevertheless, Camp WWE wouldn’t be what it is without it’s close connection to the live action world of pro wrestling and thus it’s characters share many entertaining similarities.


The illustrations vary in similarity to the real-life WWE stars, however as I go through the extensive list of pro wrestlers who feature in WWE, I’m sure you will agree that the creators and voice actors went above and beyond in order to make this fictional world fit into the wider WWE universe. First, let me tell you about the characters which I think worked…


Starting off with one of my favourite characters from the show. Though briefly used, Rusev is shown as a monstrously powerful child who brainlessly smashes into things. It’s not the closest example of a pro wrestler’s character being ported 1 for 1 to the show, but the way in which this character model was drawn, just brings me so much joy.

Big Show. For me, somehow through it’s simplicity, the character design for this man mountain is perfect.


It has a real sense of humour about what Paul White would have looked like if he was a Camp WWE attendee and leans heavily on the idea that because little big show is so big for his age, naturally he needs to sustain his growth with an abundance of food. The Big Show is Camp WWE’s stupid fat archetype and doesn’t ever go beyond that.


Paige. A perfect representation of an angsty young teen. Her look is close to what we saw from her run in WWE at the time and her voice actor is one of the most consistent throughout.


The idea that as a young boy, John Cena would have had the exact same 100 good guy attitude is hilarious. The shows creators did well to make Cena’s 2D instantly recognisable, whilst exaggerating all of the reasons real life fans of WWE complain about Big Match John. Naturally being one of the companies biggest ever stars, John Cena’s likeness is heavily featured throughout the show.


Goldust. A man who has made a career through being the strangest man in the room. In camp WWE we can see Goldust’s character as a mute and mime of sorts which ads a level of physical comedy to his scenes which I appreciate.


Mark Henry’s likeness is spot on in my opinion. A smooth talking 8 year old boy who is already somewhat of a self-confessed Lothario. The way this character is drawn, even before opening his mouth, you know exactly who it’s meant to represent and the approach to the design is funny enough on it’s own.


Gullable, easily led astray by others and a bit of a conspiracy nut. Stoopid Stoodios captured the bright sides of R-truth and his easily confused antics with one of the most expressive characters in the show and a great tribute to the legendary funny man.


Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of the most beloved pro wrestlers of all-time and from what I’ve seen from critics and fans online, he is seemingly one of the fan favourites of Camp WWE. A brash sweary young child with a bald head and classic 3:16 shirt, I think they got this character just right.


A young depressed goth, The Undertaker is as dark and gloomy in animated form as he is in WWE as we’ve seen his demonic forms through the years. This character design, with the limp black hair and pale skin I can really imagine this is what Mark Calaway would have looked like in another universe as a teenager at camp.


Now, with most shows you find yourself enjoying some characters more than others, the exact same can be said for camp WWE. The following is a brief rundown of the reasons I didn’t like this part of the cast.


For the most part I do not find Stephanie McMahon entertaining in either WWE nor in camp WWE where her character is trying to live up to her father’s wishes, but being young, naïve and arrogant only leads her to self-destruction. I didn’t find her dynamic funny with her father or her boyfriend and thus was my least favourite.


Her boyfriend in question, fittingly is Triple H, who in Camp WWE is as flat of a stupid character as you could write. Classic archetype and not much worth mentioning.


Sorry, but this one is purely my opinion. The Bella Twins suck. They aren’t entertaining in the ring and their characters are boring it-girl archetypes and it all just makes me roll my eyes. They are so little fun that they actually take away from the characters they are on screen with.


The likes of Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins feature throughout the series in smaller parts as well as a host of other notable faces from the squared circle.


Every character I have spoken about so far is portrayed in Camp WWE by a skilled member of Stoopid Stoodios voice acting team.


Where the show really shines, is in it’s ability to bring in iconic wrestlers and have them voice the characters that represent them on screen.


Ric Flair is suitably over-the-top. You can see that the man had real fun whilst in the recording booth and that sense of humour and enjoyment comes across on screen. For some the jokes which include Flair’s character may be a bit too much. But for me, hearing one of my all time favourite characters giving it his best really made me enjoy every seen with him in.


We see Ric’s character who is much older than the other kids drinking, dancing, styling and profiling just as he would in real life and for fans of this wrestling icon, the episode’s with Flair in are worth it alone.


Camp WWE is the second animated series to feature the voice of SGT Slaughter, the first being G.I Joe way back in 1985. Robert Remus, the man behind one of the 80s most recognisable wrestling personas, did an excellent job at rekindling his army instructor persona, which is such a logical fit for a cartoon about a wrestling summer camp.


Jake The Snake Roberts has survived numerous tests in his personal life and nowadays we see him gracing our screens on All Elite Wrestling. Back in 2016 he proved he still had that magic on the microphone and delivered an excellent voice performance for the programme.


Where Paul Levesque does get a chance to shine in Camp WWE is when he comes in as the voice of Triple H’s dad, Quadruple H. One of the early jokes which really made me laugh and a good moment for Levesque to show his funny side.


Notorious 90s pimp the Godfather also reprises his role for a spot of excellent voice work for this much beloved attitude era character.


The Ultimate Warrior featured heavily in an episode or two of Camp WWE, however the keen eared of you out there would have noticed that Jim Hellwig did not lend his voice to the show. This is because unfortunately, he passed way in 2014 during the pre-production stages and thus a voice actor was cast.


One notable name who was left out, Hulk Hogan was actually designed into Camp WWE and was said to have a major role, with Terry Bollea getting into the studio for the voice. However due to ongoing controversies within WWE and the wider world of media, the character was edited out of the episodes he featured in and his storylines were given to other characters.





VINCE MCMAHON


Undeniably, The owner of the WWE in real life and the Owner of the Camp in the animation, Vincent McMahon, steals the show. His voice work is excellent, and as his lends his gravelly tones to the dark humour which is written for his 2D persona is a perfect fit.


As a business man in real life, Vince McMahon is a person who is reserved about his personal life and respected within his world.


On screen, in both live action and animation, McMahon excels at playing the evil boss archetype.


Camp WWE pushes this further and I must say that every scene he featured in, was a delight. Perhaps not every one of his jokes was equally hilarious, but the joy you can hear in Vince’s voice as he delivered offensive and sometimes sickening dark humour, to me was a real giggle, and maintained this level through the show.


Vince McMahon acts as the head of Camp WWE and treats it as if he is indeed running a billion dollar company akin to real life WWE. Throughout the show, the creators think of creative similarities between the two jobs and push it further to show McMahon’s character as equal parts evil dictator and hilariously unaware.





SETH GREEN


Seth Green is a self confessed, life-long wrestling fan. Back in 2010 he was featured as the celebrity host of an episode of Raw in which he took part in the main event of the show in a six-man tag match. Pairing with Triple H and John Cena in a feud against Randy Orton & Legacy.


He featured on WWE programming other times in order to meddle in wrestlers affairs over the years. His smaller stature lending it’s self to the underdog role when standing up against some of the bigger WWE wrestlers.


Green has also attended several live shows with WWE and has admitted to being a die hard fan throughout parts of his life. Seth Green’s most notable attendance is at Wrestlemania 26, where he was pictured in the crowd in 2010.


Green’s love for pro wrestling seeped into the production and inspired the team at Stoopid Stoodios to feel the same. If nothing else, regardless on your personal opinion of the finished product, Camp WWE is a programme that does everything it can to pay tribute to the whacky world of pro wrestling.






RECEPTION


Upon Camp WWE’s release, the show received a mixed welcome. Some fans and critics alike were happy to see WWE trying something new and pushing the boundaries into more mature content. However, there was an equal amount of negativity surrounding the show’s release.


One disappointed reviewer on IMDB, gave this scathing statement on his opinions of the show and it’s creator; “For creating this piece faecal discharge Seth Green should be forced to wrestle an actual Mexican death match. This is the kind of stuff the CIA could use to torture terrorists by making them watch it. Wish I could give it a -10 stars.”


Overall, the show ranked at 6.6 ON IMDB.


A poll on prominent wrestling and combat sports website cageside seats was taken as the show began to air in 2016, you see can see the results here. From just less than 1000 people questioned, the results show most of them gave the show a B or C rank, indicating a slightly better than mediocre reception.


Hasukawa a writer from cageside seats stated on Camp WWE; It was like the worst parts of Robot Chicken repeating over and over and over again for the entirety of the episode.”




CONCLUSION


Camp WWE is clearly made by a group of creative people who have a massive passion for pro wrestling and those who step between the ropes.


Every scene of the show manages to incorporate elements of WWE into it’s fictional summer camp. From the obvious fact that the entire cast is made of of characters based off of WWE performers. To the more subtle jokes and background references which allows pro wrestling fans a deeper enjoyment from the show.


The animation style is slightly nostalgic of a bygone era with it’s imperfect line work and simplicity, given the setting, seeing current and past WWE wrestlers in their younger years, this old-fashioned feeling animation style fits excellently. The expressive illustrations lend themselves to the comedic nature of the programme well, with each character given more personality through the undeniable skill of the illustrators and producers of the show.


However, unfortunately, that is where the positives end for Camp WWE in my humble opinion. Firstly the subjective. The humour. It falls completely flat a lot of the time.

There is a real sense that Stoopid Stoodios wanted to try and push the boundaries with they types of jokes they could make in this programme.


At first, especially in the first episode, I was taken a back by the adult nature of the production and the shock led me to laughing on a number of occasions at a few of the opening jokes.


Though, once this initial shock wore off, almost all of the humour fell completely flat.

Once you ponder at the difference in maturity the jokes in Camp WWE was allowed to tell as opposed to regular WWE programming such as Smackdown, NXT or Raw, where in the modern day, swearing, adult themes and ultra-violence are kept to an absolute minimum.


Secondly, the characters. As mentioned before, you are not going to be watching Camp WWE and expecting the character depth of something like Daniel Day Lewis’ character in there will be blood. Neither should you expect the character archs to twist and turn over a huge number of episodes. Camp WWE only has a very limited number of episodes and a small amount of screen-time for most of the personas to show through.


This leads to most of the narrative, just like the humour, feeling flat. Why should you invest emotionally in a story which you know has almost zero real stakes for your favourite character?


But it’s only a cartoon, I hear you cry. Why would you take the characters seriously? You ask.


The medium of animation, quite simply, has given us some of the most realistic and human stories of the last century. From Pixar and their skilled telling of some of life’s more difficult themes, to the Simpsons and the way a families relationship can tug on the heartstrings.


Being a cartoon is not an excuse for lacklustre writing when it comes to characters.

Okay I concede that not all shows need character development, and if that was intentional then fine, but it doesn’t mean that I like it.


My last main negative is in the lack of depth for most of the character animations, yes we’ve previously discussed how emotive some of the young wrestlers are, but for lots of the episodes, especially for any characters not featured prominently in the foreground, stand still and blink in a fairly static and repetitive manner.


I love the animation style and for the majority of the episodes the designs and motions are excellent for the main characters, it just falls away when anyone other than the leads are on screen simply sitting there, or standing still with their mouths open.


So the characters don’t grow or change, there is not much in-ring action, some of the voice acting can be a bit patchy in part and the jokes are on the whole pretty lacking.


When you peel back the initial intrigue of Camp WWE, then you are left with a cartoon that doesn’t really satisfy many of my wants as an audience member.


And although shortly lived, I would struggle to give it a recommendation to anyone but the most diehard of WWE fans.


For the video on this topic & more pro wrestling content: Wrestle Pod - YouTube