Julia Pott’s aggressively charming series Summer Camp Island has returned to HBO Max for its fourth season just in time for the beginning of our actual summer. While the animated series is still every bit as adorable as it used to be, the latest batch of episodes all bring a sharper, quicker sense of humor to Oscar and Hedgehog’s adventures that speaks to how both of the kids are growing up and moving about the world.
Still unclear as Summer Camp Island’s general time frame is, the fourth season opens with all of its characters clearly having gained a significant amount of life experience since we first met them. Even though Oscar can still be a little slow on the uptake at times, he’s got a much better grasp of how things work on the strange island where he and the other campers live. While Hedgehog still makes time for her friends, she’s also become much more focused on her studies to become a witch. Whereas earlier seasons of Summer Camp Island often leaned into the kids’ wonder and alarm about their surroundings, episodes like “Oscar & His Demon” show how much of it’s become relatively ordinary for them both, even when the situations they’re confronted with are weird as hell.
When the door to the camp’s only library suddenly breaks, the rules about maintaining silence within the building spread to the rest of the island, requiring everyone to avoid making noise until the door is fixed. It’s easy enough for Oscar to figure out how he can help Hedgehog put together a door-fixing potion when she wordlessly hands him a list of ingredients, but as he goes wandering through the forest, he realizes that goo goo berries aren’t quite as easy to find as the other items Hedgehog needs. Where A Quiet Place and the movie’s sequel both created suspense by showing you how making sounds put people’s lives in danger, “Oscar & His Demon” opts for something a bit more chill, but nonetheless stressful. As Oscar travels through the island, the many monsters, animals, and other creatures all remind him to observe the rules by keeping quiet, even though few people are actually reading in this episode.
Things do take a turn for the monstrous, however, when Oscar finds a goo goo berry bush, only to realize that it’s located by a hollow tree in which some sort of ghoul with terrifying eyes and a hook hand is waiting to snatch up anyone who walks by. Simply seeing the yellow and red eyes is enough to send Oscar silent-screaming, and ultimately unable to verbalize to anyone else what scared him. As much as it frustrates Hedgehog when Oscar first returns without the goo goo berries, it’s just as difficult for him to have no way of explaining that there’s a creature waiting out there to gobble him up. It’s something that would be enough to deter Oscar were it not for his desire to be helpful. As often as he’s gotten in trouble for accidentally breaking rules, his commitment to following the library’s expanded silence policy is one of the ways Summer Camp Island’s new season conveys that Oscar, like Hedgehog, is learning things, and in this instance realizing how some rules ultimately make getting things done more difficult than they have to be.
When Oscar’s forced to choose between disappointing Hedgehog and swallowing his fear to confront the monster, Oscar chooses the latter. He’s surprised to discover that what he believed to be eyes peeking out from the tree were actually the ear markings of a talking rabbit (voiced by The Adventure Zone’s Travis McElroy) who was using the hook and chain to grab food. With the goo goo berries secured, Hedgehog’s potion comes together in a snap, and the excitement of seeing the library door repaired elicits an excited yell from Oscar that quickly prompts more judgemental shushing from the group of monsters reading books.
Oscar’s new rabbit friend doesn’t get a chance to say much before “Oscar & His Demon” comes to an end, but he takes a moment to chastise everyone for letting their commitment to the silence rule get in the way of letting Oscar celebrate his and Hedgehog’s small victory. Rules, the rabbit explains, can be as helpful as they are harmful when applied judiciously, and clinging to them too tightly makes it easier for people to lose sight of the spontaneity that often makes life exciting and satisfying. Surprisingly, the rabbit’s comments become more critical and pointed at the shushing monsters as the episode ends, and there’s no real return to Summer Camp Island’s chill, neutral starting place as the credits roll. The rabbit said what he said—that people utterly obsessed with following rules are often obstacles in and of themselves—and it’s something we could all stand to be reminded of more often.
Summer Camp Island’s entire fourth season is now streaming on HBO Max.
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