Deep down, “Teen Beach Movie” feels like a loving and affectionate tribute to Ex-Mouseketeer, the late great Annette Funicello (to which the film is dedicated to). The gorgeous and talented actress spent her early years on the Mickey Mouse Club winning over the hearts of young boys, and then moved in to some of the most pulpy and celebrated surf movies. Those movies like “Beach Blanket Bingo,” and “Muscle Beach Party” featured a lot of music, simple plots, and were a celebration of surfing. With Frankie Avalon, Funicello gained immortality. What’s even more surprising is in many respects, Maia Mitchell resembles Annette Funicello. When she begins puffing her hair with her pigtails, and transforming in to the movie, she’s almost a living embodiment of the lovely young Funicello. The movie was being filmed before Funicello passed away, so perhaps it’s just all one big coincidence. Or perhaps it’s just serendipity.
That said, Ross Lynch and Maia Mitchell are two of my favorite Disney personalities right now. Both are very talented, great singers, and have a knack for comedy. While Lynch is mostly just the heartthrob place holder at Disney for the moment, he also has a real talent for comedy, and performing. In “Teen Beach Movie,” he’s a mixture of the personalities showing how much flair he possesses as a performer, how charming he can be as a heartthrob, and how funny he can be when he’s allowed to aim for wacky comedy. Maia Mitchell is cute as a button and absolutely gorgeous as the co-star for “Teen Beach Movie,” thrust in to a world she knows nothing about, while co-star Lynch quickly embraces this world of one dimensional characters, catchy pop tunes, and stock conflicts.
Heck, when they realize they’ve been warped in to the movie, Ross as character Brady, dives head first taking part in one of his favorite musical numbers from the movie. For modern audiences this movie aims for, “Teen Beach Movie” is an ode to films like “Grease” and the classic “Beach Blanket Bingo” movie series from the sixties. Except the sexuality, and innuendo are dialed down to a G rating. Disney is not one to just air a DCOM and then leave it be. If it’s a musical, they’re going to squeeze perhaps three movies out of it. So can the writers keep this premise fresh for another two movies? How many times can we watch two teens warped in to a Beach movie from the fifties? Nevertheless, “Teen Beach Movie” has a weird but fun premise, and that’s what drew me to it initially.
How many modern films influence young audiences to look back at the “Beach Blanket Bingo” movies of yesteryear? Mack and Brady are two teenagers that have spent their entire summer on the beach surfing and enjoying life. When Mack is visited by her aunt who is ready to take her away to a Prep school for the rest of her high school term, Brady is heartbroken she not only intends to leave, but wants to break up. The next day, Brady and Mack venture out on to the beach to catch a huge wave on their grandfather’s sacred surf board and in the middle of a tidal wave awaken on the beach. But not just any beach. They wake up on Brady’s favorite movie “Wet Side Story.”
Another version of the star crossed lovers formula from Shakespeare (sans the violence and death), the pair find themselves in a flesh and blood reality about a warring group of surfers and bikers fighting for a hang out on the beach, as two of their own, Tanner and Lela, begin falling in love. When Mack and Brady accidentally integrate themselves in the movie, they disturb the storyline and things go awry. One of the themes of “Teen Beach Movie” is the classic theme about destiny. Just because your future has been mapped out, does it mean you can’t change the outcome? Do we really have a choice in how our lives work out, in the end?
Lynch and Mitchell give great performances as this couple who try to find ways to avoid disturbing the movie, and soon find out that if they don’t act fast they’ll become the movie. Lynch displays his flair for performing and comedy, jumping in to the movie when he realizes where he is, and has a great time becoming a part of his favorite numbers from the movie. From the first number on the beach which ends on a laugh out loud moment, to Lynch dancing alongside the dreaded bikers known as “The Rodents,” the movie is filled with clever gags, and pretty excellent musical numbers. Aside from Lynch and Mitchell, Grace Phipps is a scene stealer as a the raven haired Lela who wants to stay loyal to her brother Butchy (John DeLuca is hilarious) and his biker gang, while Garret Clayton is great as surfer Tanner who is about as clueless and naive as they come.
You also have to enjoy the supporting performances from Chrissie Fitt, and Jordan Fisher. While the film has every chance to break stride and pander to modern audiences, it keeps its eye firmly on paying tribute to the classic Beach movies, all with pretty great numbers that feel like they were written in the early sixties. “Teen Beach Movie” pulls off a great feat of paying homage to the classic Beach musicals, without ever poking fun at them. It instead celebrates why they’re so fun and silly, all while offering an interesting romance. It’s definitely a cure for the blues, and will hopefully inspire its intended audience to pick up the old Beach films with Frankie and Annette. They’re still valuable film contributions worth an audience.