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‘Beach Movie’ revamps teen genre for a new generation

Grace Phipps (from left)  Garrett ClaytMaiMitchell Ross Lynch star 'Teen Beach Movie.'

Grace Phipps (from left) , Garrett Clayton, Maia Mitchell and Ross Lynch star in "Teen Beach Movie."

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Updated: August 21, 2013 6:07AM

A bunch of tanned surfers dancing with striped towels, patterned suits and coiffed hair: If that sounds like the beginning of the ’60s film “Beach Blanket Bingo,” well, it is.

But it also is an apt description of the first musical number in Disney Channel’s “Teen Beach Movie” (9 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday), which pays homage to the kinds of films popularized by Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. You know, those films that kids — and probably even their parents — definitely haven’t seen.

“We felt that the genre is so fun, exuberant and embodies the spirit of summer, you don’t need an appreciation of those movies” to enjoy the network’s latest original film, says Disney Channel’s Jennilee Cummings.

To be clear, “Teen Beach Movie” isn’t a retro beach movie, but a movie about two modern-day teenage surfers, McKenzie (Maia Mitchell of ABC Family’s “The Fosters”) and Brady (“Ross Lynch,” “Austin & Ally”), who are trapped inside a ’60s-era musical. However, the musical holding them hostage — “Wet Side Story,” where surfers and bikers battle for control of a local hangout — is more colorful, acrobatic and full of tunes than any of the actual beach films ever were.

“It’s a very different experience when you go back and watch” the original beach-party films, says director and choreographer Jeff Hornaday, who also directed Disney’s 2011 film “Geek Charming.” “In their time, they were charming. But they were kind of flat, and choreography was very minimal,” he says. Instead, “Wet Side Story,” which borrows heavily from musicals such as “West Side Story” and “Grease,” is meant to be comically over-the-top. So the dance numbers are no beach picnic.

“Running up and down the sand wears you out pretty quick,” says Hornaday. “For the dancers, it was a real challenge. People were dropping like flies,” he says. Lynch, who pirouettes, flips and tap-dances as Brady, says he lost a toenail during filming. “The first few takes it’s fun, but the sand gets really hot, really heavy. You start to stick to the sand.”

While Brady loves the beach genre, McKenzie finds “Wet Side Story” ludicrous. That premise “gave us license to make [musical] transitions really humorous and really obvious,” says Hornaday. As when “Wet Side Story” heartthrob Tanner (Garrett Clayton) starts singing to McKenzie, mid-conversation, and throws his guitar off-screen. “Oh, oh good, a song,” says McKenzie sarcastically.

In truth, the songs “are what’s at the heart of the whole film,” says Mitchell. And Disney is hoping those songs (released Tuesday on iTunes and in stores) will find their way into kids’ hearts.

With its latest project, Disney hopes to repeat the success of its “High School Musical” franchise. The 2006 original was seen by roughly 160 million people and generated $500 million in DVD, soundtrack and merchandise sales. So, as with 2008’s “Camp Rock” — which boosted Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers — there’s a clear push for “Teen Beach Movie” to be the next big thing.

Gannett News Service

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