I have to admit—I was excited when I heard about Disney’s Teen Beach Movie. Though corny by today’s standards (or any standards, for that matter), I used to watch the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies as a kid. Born in the sixties, I loved the costumes, dance and music of my parents’ teenaged years. I also watched Annette on the old Mickey Mouse Club black and white re-runs, so it was cool to see what she did afterward. The last beach movie released was 1987’s Back to the Beach, which I loved, because in addition to being a blast from the past, Lori Laughlin played Frankie and Annette’s daughter. Back to the Beach was campy and silly and featured Pee Wee Herman singing “Bird is the Word”; what more could you ask?
When my eight year old daughters started extreme fangirling on High School Musical, I thought I should see what it was all about. I was pleasantly surprised. I even went to the theatre to see the third one with them and really enjoyed it. While the storylines left something to be desired, the music and dance scenes were impressive. My daughters didn’t have to twist my arm to get me to watch Camp Rock, or Lemonade Mouth either. So when I read about Teen Beach Movie I was interested. My daughter insisted it was like Grease and she was all “been there, done that”. Even though I insisted it was more like Beach Blanket Bingo than Grease, she remains steadfast in her claim, refusing to take even a peek at Beach Blanket Bingo, headstrong almost-fourteen-year-old that she is, which is frustrating as this means I am unable to educate her on the finer points of popular culture on which I thrive.
Teen Beach Movie is surprisingly entertaining to watch. In the movie, Brady and Mac (short for Mackenzie) are in love. Mac lives with her grandfather on the beach, but she must go back to the city with her stuck-up aunt to attend private school for the rest of her education. Because Mac’s deceased mother wanted her to be the best she could be, Mac feels a duty to go with her aunt, even if it means breaking up with Brady to do so. Mac is a surfer, better than most of the boy-surfers out there, and she has been looking forward to surfing the forty-foot waves brought on by the coming storm, but surfing them would mean missing her plane. She awakes on the day she is to leave to see that her grandfather’s surfboard, the one always hanging from the rafters, is propped against the wall instead, and she decides to go for one last surf. Worried she may drown, Brady takes a Jet Ski out to save her. They both get pulled down by the waves and come up for air in the sixties, and soon realize they are actually in the beach movie, West Side Story, that Brady idolizes and knows by heart. The movie is about the love story between a surfer boy and biker girl who fall in love and unite the two gangs against stereotypical bad guys to save the day, but when the surfer boy falls for Mac and the biker girl falls for Brady instead of each other, they have a problem.
The music in Teen Beach Movie is pop-based with a retro flavour, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that there are a few I wouldn’t be above adding to my playlist. The acting is okay, but it’s what you would expect from an old time beach movie, that is to say, over the top. Ross Lynch as Brady is perfect as the lovelorn puppy dog who would be lost without his girl. Maia Mitchell is cute as Mac, but her character suffers from a case of she-doth-protest-too-much until she gets acquainted with Grace Phipps’ character, the girl biker, Lela and they become besties. Garrett Clayton plays the role of Tanner with vapid charm, though he looks a little too much like Zac Efron for comfort. The final surprise in this movie was seeing Kent Boyd of So You Think You Can Dance fame as Rascal, and while his acting is overblown (again, as you would expect from a beach movie), he was one of my favourites from the show and it was great to see him post SYTYCD, though I would have liked for his part to be a little bigger. He might have been good in either male lead. For sure he has the legs for it.
While Teen Beach Movie is not one of those movies I could watch again and again (like I do Men in Black, Legally Blonde, or Kate and Leopold, for example), it is quite enjoyable as a parody of the original movies. The song and dance numbers—though they may occur randomly as Mac points out—are entertaining, and the jokes—like how everyone goes surfing and emerges with dry hair—are kind of funny. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, and some borrowing from similar movies (Brady’s lifejacket fades from existence like Marty McFly’s siblings from the photograph in Back to the Future, and there’s a baby-doll sleepover scene like the “Sandra Dee” number in Grease, that comes off as a sort of mashup between “Sandra Dee” and “Summer Loving”), though I did miss watching my daughters try to dance along with the cast when they teach the moves during commercial breaks. Nevertheless, Teen Beach Movie is great entertainment for the kids as an introduction to a long-extinct genre, and memorable nostalgia for their parents. The hour and forty-five minutes I invested in watching the movie was time well spent.
About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to seriously write. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN, was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.
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