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The movie stars Ross Lynch (Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally) and Maia Mitchell (ABC Family’s The Fosters) as Brady and McKenzie, surfers who mysteriously wind up in a classic beach-party movie called Wet Side Story. There, it’s surfers versus bikers for control of the beach hangout — and everyone spontaneously breaks into song and dance.
The network — which previously found huge success with the High School Musical franchise — has high hopes for the movie, which debuts at 8 p.m. on July 19. The soundtrack is already available for preorder, and big marketing plans are in the works, with a slew of licensed product hitting stories along with a 10-city event tour at malls around the country.
Ahead of the movie’s premiere, director-choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the high expectations, sequel plans and the potential to make stars of out its cast.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did you become involved with this movie?
Jeffrey Hornaday: I originally did a movie for Disney called Geek Charming, and it was a romantic comedy, with music and dance. It went really well, we got nominated for a DGA Award, and so we kind of developed a nice relationship. They came up with this project, and I wasn’t aware of it. It was developed internally, and I spoke with [Disney Channels Worldwide president] Gary Marsh and [former senior vp original movies] Michael Healy about it. I felt a connection to it, and we all wanted to go in the same direction.
THR: Are you a fan of those classic beach-party movies?
Hornaday: I almost have a kind of genetic memory about them. I remember what they felt like, the sense of whimsical elements to them. When I go back and look at them, they are actually a lot flatter than what I remember nostalgically [laughs].
THR: How much did you try to stay true to the feel of those classic movies?
Hornaday: Teen Beach Movie starts with a young couple, and the girl takes the curse of the breakout-song-and-dance convention by saying upfront, “Why do they do that? That’s so ridiculous.” By doing that, when they find themselves trapped [in the movie], we’ve overcome that obstacle and you can suspend disbelief in a naturalistic way. As a consequence, that gave us license to go as over the top as we could imagine. It was fun because we didn’t hold ourselves to what the old genre actually was.
THR: But you used them as inspiration?
Hornaday: They have an unabashed sense of whimsy and joy about them, and that was kind of what we drew on more than the execution or actual form those films took.
THR: Was there any pressure to create another huge movie franchise for Disney Channel a la High School Musical?
Hornaday: Not really. When we first jumped into it, there was not that expectation at all. We knew it could potentially be a franchise, but once we started to see the dailies and kind of get the sense that there was something special there, then I think the studio started to think maybe there is more here than just a one-off. But we weren’t living under the expectations of what that [High School Musical] franchise was.
THR: Has there been talk about a sequel?
Hornaday: There is a lot of buzz about that. Obviously, it depends on how it does. I don’t know if anything is official yet, but that’s kind of what the rumor has been.
THR: High School Musical made household names out of its cast. Do you think this movie will make stars out of Ross and Maia?
Hornaday: I think so. We got lucky in that when we first started out that we wanted to find young people who would really nail the characters. We got lucky in that all of the principals also are really good musical performers. Ross and Maia have great chemistry, and they’re talented too.
Teen Beach Movie,which debuts at 8 p.m. on July 19, also stars Garrett Clayton, Grace Phipps, John Deluca, Chrissie Fit, Barry Bostwick, Kevin Chamberlin and Steve Valentine. Watch a clip below.
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