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Annette Funicello’s Legacy: Why We Couldn’t Have ‘Spring Breakers’ Without ‘Beach Party’

Joal Ryan
Movie Talk
April 8, 2013

When you think of sex, guns and James Franco, you probably don't think of Annette Funicello.

And you probably haven't seen "Beach Party," either.

The 1963 romp established Frankie Avalon, the G-rated pop idol, and Funicello, the Mouseketeer who died Monday at age 70, as an on-screen team. It elevated sand and bikinis to a genre all their own. And it set a course, however crooked and long-winding, for 2013's own "Spring Breakers."

"Beach Party" opens with Frankie and Annette, or, rather the movie characters Frankie and Dolores, driving. To a beach. To party. And to have sex.

As things turn out, Frankie only thinks he's going to have sex; Dolores, who's holding out for marriage, has invited an untold number of houseguests along on their rendezvous to collectively act as a chaperone.

So, yes, the movie's as cheesy as the rear-screen-projection shots that are deployed whenever one of its handle-with-care stars is behind the wheel or on a surfboard.

But still, there's something real and authentic going on: "Beach Party" has sex on the brain. Mostly that's because the film, unlike its more straight-laced cousin "Gidget," was released outside of the Technicolor studio system. (Cheers to American International Pictures!) But also it's because "Beach Party," released one year after the birth-control-pill hit the million-user mark, was as much the first post-pill movie as the first Frankie-and-Annette opus.

As the pill ushered in the sexual revolution, so "Beach Party" ushered in something of a movie revolution. It made "beach" Hollywood code for sex, fun and skin. (Prior to "Beach Party," arguably the most notable movie with beach in the title was the buzz-killing, post-apocalyptic "On the Beach.") And, perhaps its chief legacy, if not appeal, it proved that Disney girls didn't stay girls forever; that they grew up, and grew out of their sweaters. Funicello did it; Britney Spears, who's referenced in "Spring Breakers," did it; and now, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, who star in "Spring Breakers," are doing it, too.

No, Beach Party isn't rife with violence or raunch or Franco, but it's alive with hormones -- and the product of those hormones lives on today.

And for all that you should think of -- and thank -- Funicello. Maybe the modest Disney icon wouldn't want to take the credit (or blame) for "Spring Breakers," but Dolores probably would recognize something of her spirit in Hudgens' and Gomez's bikinis.