Disney Channel musical “Teen Beach Movie” attracted 8.4 million viewers during its July 19 premiere, making it the most-watched TV movie so far this year (according to Nielsen), and has sold more than 82,000 copies of its soundtrack in two weeks of release (according to Nielsen SoundScan). It’s off to a better start than even “High School Musical,” which drew 7.7 million viewers in 2006, went on to become the top-selling album of the year and spawned two sequels, a theatrical presentation and an ice show.
Disney hasn’t moved forward on “Teen Beach Movie 2” and it has yet to push a single into Radio Disney’s top 30, but there’s enthusiasm for the time-travel fantasy to be more than a one-time special.
“This is hopefully a franchise for the company,” Disney Channel senior VP of 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.”
“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, the movie also has to ensure proper romantic pairings and, less consciously, spread a message of empowerment to girls.
Musically, the film brings together sounds familiar to the parents and grandparents of the generation that’s tuning in: early Motown, girl groups, the Beach Boys and the remnants of ’50s rock’n’roll. Vincent brought in multiple teams of songwriters, suggested styles of the eras for certain spots and, after receiving multiple submissions for the nine music slots, picked the songs that worked best in the storytelling.
“We wanted to have the music feel like it did in the ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’-type movies,” Vincent says. “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.”
That experiment provided a unique treat for David Lawrence, who composed the score and, with Faye Greenberg, two of the film’s nine songs. Their compositions, “Surf Crazy” and “Meant to Be,” allowed them the rare opportunity to venture into Brian Wilson’s world.
“The challenge musically,” Lawrence says, “was I wanted to create something fun that had [the Beach Boys’] ‘Pet Sounds’ all over it. We had wood blocks, timpani, glockenspiel, chimes, counter vocals-everything you normally couldn’t get away with now, but you could back then when everyone was experimenting. We tried to synthesize all of that and really make it feel authentic and fun at the same time.”