The Disney Channel is trying something new with its latest musical film, a period piece. "Teen Beach Movie," which premieres July 19, steps back in time to the 1962 world of surfers, greasers, the beginnings of Motown and the Beach Boys and teen exploitation films set in a carefree world of surf and sand.
Just as its most recent musical, “Let It Shine,” stepped into the previously untouched world of rap and gospel, “Teen Beach Movie” creates a musical world of girl groups, rockabilly and surf rock for a pre-teen audience – a first for the Disney Channel.
“This is hopefully a franchise for the company,” Disney Channel senior VP, soundtracks, Steven Vincent says. “It’s the music, the movie, consumer products – it all ties in together but it does start with the movie. If (kids) love the movie, love the characters, they’re going to want to hear the music over and over again.
“They’re going to want to wear the bathing suit that the girl wears in the movie, wear the cool little necklace and all the rest of it. That’s when it grows into the bigger picture. It’s not a one-off.”
"Teen Beach Movie" stars Ross Lynch, a member of the group R5 and a star of Disney Channel's "Austin & Ally," and Maia Mitchell, who appears in ABC Family's "The Fosters." They portray modern day teen surfers who wind up in a classic beach party movie, “Wet Side Story,” in a bit of time travel mumbo jumbo. While they try to escape the film and return to the present day, they also have to ensure proper romantic pairings and, less consciously, spread a message of empowerment to the girls.
Walt Disney Records is releasing the soundtrack July 16, staging "Teen Beach Movie” beach parties at malls, and spreading information about the film via beach balls at One Direction and R5 concerts.
While the film has no official single yet, radio and online has gravitated toward “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’” performed by Lynch, Grace Phipps and Jason Evigan, Vincent says.
“It feels iconic and a great representation of the spirit of the movie,” he says. “ ‘Surf's Up,’ the finale song, takes the musical into the real world even more and is more of a contemporary take than the classic (style) one earlier.”
Vincent explained how the songs, written by the team of David Lawrence and Faye Greenberg, Antonina Armato, Aris Archontis, Mitch Allan and others, came together for the Disney’s beach party.
When you hand out the assignments to the different songwriting teams, how do you draw the line between imitation and original?
Vincent: That was talked about with the songwriters and the director. We wanted to take the audience to the early ‘60s and have the music feel like it did in the ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ type movies. Some asked should we use old guitars? Old amps? Make it sound old-fashioned? And I was like, ‘well no.’ While we want kids to experience the music of that time, they’re 8 to 12 years old so you still want it to be relatable to them. They definitely used plenty of colors from that time in music and the feel of the writing of that time, but its accessible to the audience of today.
The film has nine songs in it. How many submissions did you request from writers?
There were probably four or five people or teams writing for each spot. There was quite a bit of creativity of going into the music for the movie. A lot of the people who worked on this have worked on other musicals and series so they (understand) the brand, but I think it was a fun challenge in that it wasn’t like any other Disney Channel musical.
How specific were the instructions to composers?
We were real specific. The bikers were more of the ‘50s so they have a rockabilly sound to them, while the surfers had to have songs with surf sounds, great background vocals, a lush feel. As things crossed over for the characters, that was where we could try some Motown stuff like “Falling for You” - a third flavor in the mix. Same thing with “Meant To Be,” lots of voices, strings, swells. (Lyrically) they help tell the story. We don’t stop to sing a song – the music is all a part of the storytelling.
Not since “High School Musical” has a Disney movie felt like such an ensemble piece. Are there any musical careers riding on this one?
Ross Lynch is our star from “Austin and Ally” and his band R5 is growing by the month. He is probably the key focus. Ross has built a great following so I’m anxious to see how this movie will take him to the next level. Maia had done a little bit of singing before the movie, but I think the music she would like to do is a little more alternative. For the rest of the gang, I think the opportunity will be there for them if this movie blows up.