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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 ’60s-set 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.
Along the way, McKenzie encourages biker Lela (Grace Phipps) to fight the norm by pursuing her passion and break out of traditional roles that females were expected to fill during that time period. That message of empowerment is one of the reasons that Phipps wanted to be a part of the movie.
“I don’t think there are too many examples in the things that little girls get to watch about female friendship and girls being nice to each other,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Everything I know about how to be a friend and a woman actually came from the live-action Josie and the Pussycats movie. So the idea of getting to be a part of this movie, that you can be who you want to be no matter who you are or where you come from, was an emotional thing for us [the cast].”
Chrissie Fit, who plays biker Chee Chee, also points to the diversity of the cast as an important component for young viewers. She had seen some of the classic beach-party movies growing up but couldn’t completely relate to them.
“My mom and dad would rent them and play them for me, but I’d lose interest very quickly,” says Fit, a Latina. “It had to do with the fact that I didn’t see myself in them. There weren’t very many Latinos in those kinds of classic movies. This project gave me the opportunity to give that to little girls, which I didn’t have. There was a little Mexican girl speaking Spanish to me to the other day, and she was so excited she could speak Spanish to someone she watched on TV.”
Fit’s character is memorable for her high-pitched voice and heavy New York accent; she says the idea came about because she thought it would be funny if the “toughest girl had the highest-pitched voice and a silly laugh.”
Also memorable is Mollee Gray as surfer Giggles, who wears fringe and frequently moves in a way to make it shake. As for her name, she never actually giggles in the movie — which she says was a conscious decision to avoid the expected with her character.
Gray — a veteran of all three of Disney’s High School Musical movies — says that when Teen Beach Movie was filming, there was no pressure to make another big hit along those lines.
But, she adds, “I’m hopeful because High School Musical is so great and so successful. I think Teen Beach Movie has the potential for that as well.”
Speaking of High School Musical, Garrett Clayton, who plays surfer Tanner, is being compared to HSM star Zac Efron. It’s something he hears quite often, he says.
“I say this time and time again, I think he’s been so smart [with his career],” Clayton says. “He was working with Disney for so long, and when he felt it was time to kind of move on and do things he was passionate about, he also learned how to navigate through those waters, and he has his own production company. He’s been really smart about [paving] his own way.”
Meanwhile, the costumes helped castmembers like John DeLuca — who plays Butchy, leader of the bikers — get into character. DeLuca, who grew up watching movies like Grease, says that being able to play a similar character was “a dream come true.”
The credit goes to Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who also has worked on such films as Amistad, Malcolm X and Lee Daniels’ forthcoming The Butler. Carter says she has a collection of old Butterick and Sears catalogs that she used as inspiration along with movies like Beach Blanket Bingo.
“Those [catalogs] were the ones where the girls posed on the beach and did these funny little poses,” she says. “It’s fun because it’s a heightened realism. We also wanted it to be real sweet — there are those baby doll pajamas, pastel chiffon with pantaloons underpants, that we don’t wear anymore.”
Lynch, meanwhile, also is a fan of the classic beach-party movies, much like his character in Teen Beach Movie. Yet, he jokes, “I have a lot of movies I should have watched to prepare for this one, but I didn’t get around to it for some reason — don’t ask me why.”
Lynch and Mitchell both learned to surf for the movie. Says Lynch, who also has an album with his band R5 scheduled to be released in September, of his newfound talent: “I’m addicted now.”
THR also talked to star Mitchell about how she learned to surf for her role and filming in Puerto Rico. Read what she had to say here.
Teen Beach Movie premieres at 8 p.m. Friday on Disney Channel.
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