‘Teen Beach Movie,’ you guessed it
Disney Channel movie is a sendup of those '60s beach movies
July 15, 2013
The Pot Channel is about to air a parody of kettles that will point out that kettles are, like, totally black.
That’s roughly what’s happening with the Disney Channel’s “Teen Beach Movie,” a send-up of the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon surfer features of the early 1960s, which it mocks as being unrealistic, simplistic and corny. “Teen Beach Movie” ignores the fact that the exact same criticisms can be leveled at Disney’s own franchise of “High School Musical”-style movies, including “Teen Beach Movie” itself.
But if we forgive the channel’s chutzpah, “Teen Beach Movie” has a few good jokes in its scattershot satire that might make parents of a certain age smile. The cute lead couple and a simple plot should keep tween viewers happy, even if they have no idea what is being parodied.
Airing this Friday, July 19, at 8 p.m., “Teen Beach Movie” is something of a movie within a movie. McKenzie (Maia Mitchell) and Brady (Ross Lynch) are two teenagers who go surfing in a dangerously high storm on the day she’s supposed to move east to attend a fancy boarding school. They find themselves transported into the world of a 1962 beach movie called “Wet Side Story,” in which surfers and bikers battle over control of their favorite beachside hangout, Big Momma’s.
Since “Wet Side Story” happens to be Brady’s favorite movie, he knows that in a few days there will be another dangerously high storm that could transport them back to real life. He also knows that the wealthy developer Les Camembert (Steve Valentine) has hired a mad scientist, Dr. Fusion (Kevin Chamberlin), to build a weather-altering machine that will drive the surfers and bikers away so that Camembert can take over the beach and build a fancy resort.
The coolest surfer dude, Tanner (Garrett Clayton), and the sweetest biker chick, Lela (Grace Phipps), have to fall in love for the move to have its requisite happy ending. Unfortunately, Tanner and Lela fall for Brady and Mac.
For all this silliness to work, the writing and directing require a light but sure touch that the writers and director don’t quite have. For example, the modern kids’ first encounter with the movie kids is full of misunderstandings based on differences between ’60s and ’10s slang. When Brady addresses a surfer as “dog,” the surfer says, “He thinks we’re animals.”
But for the rest of the film, the movie kids repeatedly misunderstand common idioms like “You know what?” and “You don’t say!” Since Lela, at least, isn’t supposed to be stupid, there’s no point to this joke, although younger children might enjoy it in an Amelia Bedelia sort of way.
The musical numbers are inoffensive but generally lack wit. One exception is a song in which Brady and Mac find themselves being drawn deeper into the world of the earlier movie and thus unable to resist the urge to sing and dance.
A split-screen number with the girls at a pajama party and the boys at Big Momma’s seems based on “Grease,” which was itself a parody of movies about pre-hippie youth culture. Since the original beach movies were tongue-in-cheek as well, the degrees of irony are probably too complex to parse.
The adult actors playing Les Camembert and Dr. Fusion capture the goofy spirit of the original movies. Disney Channel fans will recognize the hammy acting style from the regular performances of most of the adult actors in most of the Disney Channel’s own sitcoms.
The “real world” plot of “Teen Beach Movie” — will Mac leave Brady to fulfill her late mother’s dreams? — is treated completely seriously, as is the movie’s eventual lesson: the unoriginal insight that people should follow their own dreams.
An early montage in which Mac and Brady have good clean fun by the sea is just as sappy as anything we ever saw Annette and Frankie do.
So we have a fundamentally earnest movie that mocks tongue-in-cheek movies for their earnestness. When the tweens who are now enjoying “Teen Beach Movie” grow up to create parodies of Disney Channel movies, let’s hope they’ll be a little fairer.
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