My kids have been at camp for a couple of weeks, but when we retrieved them, they knew all sorts of special “camp” songs. But on top of the various camp rhymes and chants, the kids keep singing tracks like “Surf’s Up” and “Can’t Stop Singing” from the newest Disney musical, “Teen Beach Movie.” Like “High School Musical,” “Teen Beach Movie” stars a cast of earnest, attractive young actors who sing catchy tunes about friendship and love. But unlike “High School Musical,” “Teen Beach Movie” isn’t set on a school campus, it’s a true summer musical — a throwback to those old beach movies about surfers and their innocent, big-haired girlfriends.
“Teen Beach Movie” is like “Pleasantville” meets “Beach Blanket Bingo” by way of “West Side Story.” Summer sweethearts McKenzie and Brady have just been informed that “Mack” is going to have to leave their idyllic beach town in order to attend a snooty all-girls’ private school “back East” the very next morning. Wanting to surf a monster wave, Mack braves perilous conditions to ride an extreme wave before she catches her flight. Instead, the wave knocks Mack and Brady out, and they emerge to find they’re in Brady’s favorite surfing musical, “Wet Side Story” — the “Romeo and Juliet” tale of a biker girl who falls for a surfer boy.
The thing about Disney movies is that they’re all chaste and sweet enough for even young kids to enjoy. They’re not meant for teenagers, although my 15-year-old niece definitely likes the “Grease” lite musical too. But really, “Teen Beach Movie” is best for kids and tweens who aren’t ready (and don’t need) for adolescent hormones and angst. The stars of the movie, Maia Mitchell (an Aussie discovery) and Ross Lynch (already a Disney star on the show “Austin & Ally”), are as bubbly and adorable as you expect, while the stars of the movie within the movie include a Zac Efron doppelganger (Garrett Clayton, as the pretty-boy head surfer Tanner) and the lovely Grace Phipps as the lovely biker girl Lela.
Yes, this is a movie that doesn’t shy away from predictability or cliche, but despite the cheerful cheesiness, it’s fun, especially if you have tweens. And eventually you can move on to the musicals “Teen Beach Movie” pays tribute to, like “Grease” and “West Side Story.”