Grace Phipps wasn’t born yet — not even close — when Frankie Avalon and Annettte Funicello were kicking up sand in the 1960s “Beach Party” movies.
She’s only 23.
But the actress, born in Austin and raised in San Antonio, grew up loving this genre. So it’s “a dream come true to be an Annette archetype” in Disney Channel’s “Teen Beach” musicals.
“It doesn’t get much better,” Phipps says. “When I was a kid, every Friday night was movie night. My mother would make pizzas and we would watch fun movies like Beach Blanket Bingo and Bikini Beach. Ski Party was always my favorite. I loved those movies. So it’s amazing to actually get to be in one.”
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Phipps is among the returning stars in Teen Beach 2, which premieres at 7 p.m. Friday.
The original, 2013’s Teen Beach Movie, in which modern-day surfing sweethearts became trapped in a ’60s beach flick called Wet Side Story, was the second-highest-rated cable movie in TV history.
In Teen Beach 2, the main couple from Wet Side Story, Tanner and Lela, magically escape their movie and find their way to “the real world” where Brady (Ross Lynch) and McKenzie (Maia Mitchell) live.
As Brady points out, the scenario is “a little bit weird and kind of impossible” — but it’s precisely the brand of movie magic that can create another ratings powerhouse.
Only High School Musical 2, with more than 18 million viewers in 2007, had a bigger audience than Teen Beach Movie’s 13.5 million.
But it wasn’t just an audience of kids that made the first movie a hit.
“A lot of moms and dads loved it, too,” Phipps says. “I’ll often have business meetings with people who have children and they’re like, ‘Hi, I’ve seen your movie, like, 3,000 times.’”
Adds Garrett Clayton, who plays Tanner, the Avalon to Phipps’ Funicello: “I’ve met grown-up fans who watched the first movie, not because of their kids, but because they lived through that whole era with Frankie and Annette as their icons. They come up and say, ‘Wow, you really encompassed what we grew up with. Watching it made me feel young again.’ How great is that?”
The “Teen Beach” movies are such audience pleasers because of the feel-good combination of music, dance and comedy, with an uplifting message embedded within.
The premise gets a little trippy when the cast of Wet Side Story, the movie within the movie, is singing and dancing onscreen and Teen Beach characters perform the same song and dance while enjoying the movie — creating an element akin to a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening.
It’s not hard to imagine kids at home also singing and dancing along to what they witness on TV.
“So it’s like looking at a picture of a picture of a picture,” Phipps says. “It’s like Inception for kids. It’s high-concept, but in a way that’s so intuitive that it’s easily digestible for all audiences.”
Lynch and Mitchell also return in the roles of Brady and Mack, the “real world” kids who befriended Tanner and Lela in the original.
The reason the Wet Side Story couple winds up in the real world is that Lela has become disenchanted with her confining role of supportive, adoring girlfriend.
Even though Lela is just “a made-up character in a movie,” she aspires to something more out of life. In the end, thanks to Mack’s encouragement, Lela winds up “changing the movie she’s in.”
“That message of female empowerment is really special,” Phipps says. “Actually, the idea that you can be anybody you want to be, regardless of who you are or where you come from, is a message that everybody, not just girls, can embrace.
“If you want it badly enough, all you have to do is change the movie you’re in.”
Teen Beach 2
▪ 7 p.m. Friday
▪ Disney Channel