Here’s something I had forgotten: Teen Beach Movie and Teen Beach 2 take place in the same year. Technically, the second film starts the exact same summer as the first film. So, what was going on in the world of Disney Channel in 2013? Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Sonny with a Chance/So Random were over, but Jessie, ANT Farm, Shake It Up, and Good Luck Charlie were still on. Liv & Maddie appeared as a special preview right after the Teen Beach premiere. Most importantly, music-driven sitcom Austin & Ally, starring Laura Marano and Ross Lynch, was right in the middle of its run. Ross stars in Teen Beach as Brady, and Maia Mitchell (The Fosters, Good Trouble) stars as Mack.
I had just finished my freshman year of college in 2013, when Teen Beach Movie came out. I remember watching that one and being excited about the ’60s references, especially Grease (there are a lot of biker characters in Teen Beach) and the beach-blanket genre — my sister and I would watch Gidget with my mom sometimes. The first Teen Beach opens with Mack and Brady surfing, and the scene gives me some Rip Girl (2000) vibes. Mack is supposed to move away to go to a prep school, and she and Brady are spending all their summer days together. But when they get caught out in the ocean in a storm, they are transported into a 1960s beach flick, cleverly titled Wet Side Story. They spend most of Teen Beach within Wet Side Story, getting to know its characters and accidentally causing the leads, Tanner and Lela, to fall in love with Mack and Brady, respectively. So Brady and Mack try to get Lela and Tanner back with each other so that order can be restored, and so Mack and Brady can get home. The second movie flips this around, sending the Wet Side Story leads into the future — the 2010s — to see Brady and Mack. Teen Beach 2 shows Lela grappling with her 1960s life, wanting more independence and desiring to stay in the future, where she presumably can achieve whatever she wants. Kind of like the first film, the second winds down with a mission to restore normalcy. This time, Tanner and Lela must return to their movie before all its other characters disappear. But the Internet was pretty angry when Mack gave Lela permission to take charge and alter the film, thereby changing Wet Side Story to Lela: Queen of the Beach, thereby rendering former lovers Mack and Brady total strangers.
As confusing as those details can be, I do think both Teen Beach Movies are creative and fun to watch, especially the music. I didn’t realize how strong a showing the first had on its premiere night: 8.4 million viewers. Not bad for 2013. The cast even performed “Cruisin’ For a Bruisin'” on Good Morning America as the soundtrack debuted. My favorite song from the first movie is “Like Me,” since it reminds me of “Tell Me More” from Grease. In the second movie, I really like the reprise of “Meant to Be,” but I also enjoy anytime Ross sings. I think it’s refreshing that he commits so much to his performances.
While we’re here, a word on “Twist Your Frown Upside Down.” This feels like it’s kind of trying to be “Stick to the Status Quo” from HSM… We get the high school “anthropology shot” where cliques are siloed off during lunch. Tanner and Lela bring their perfect ’60s charm and try to get everyone to smile, but with all the close-ups, it’s clear that some of these extras at the school are way older than teenage. I would have liked to have seen Mack and Brady’s relationship at school explored a bit more, as that’s where their tension lies: Mack is Type-A to a fault, constantly running off to do calculus or organize an oceanography initiative, and Brady is a chill surfer bro. To his credit, he creates a motorized surfboard that saves Lela and Tanner at the end… (Although, saving Lela and Tanner means he can’t remember his entire romance with Mack. What an ending!) Finally, I’ll say that Garrett Clayton, who plays Tanner, is my favorite part of these movies. He’s so talented and hilarious as a walking Ken doll, and I think he should have been in more DCOMs.
Do you like the Teen Beach Movies?