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5 Essential Annette Funicello Movies (And They're Not All At The Beach)

The Playlist By Diana Drumm | The Playlist April 9, 2013 at 2:46PM

Within the few days or so, we have heard about the deaths of Roger Ebert and "Queen of Prep" Lilly Pulitzer. Following the rule of threes, we have also lost one of America’s sweethearts. Original Disney teen sensation and "Beach Party" star Annette Funicello passed away yesterday, due to complications from multiple sclerosis. Discovered at the age of 12 by Walt Disney, Funicello went on to be unarguably the most popular Mouseketeer (6,000 fan letters a week) in the newly formed “Mickey Mouse Club“ and to appear in such Disney classics as "The Shaggy Dog." By this time, Funicello was also releasing pop hits left and right, including "Tall Paul," "First Name Initial," and "Pineapple Princess." After outgrowing her Mouseketeer sweater, to the notice of young boys around the country, she moved onto the series of films she is probably most famous for, the "Beach Party" movies.
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Bikini Beach, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello

"Bikini Beach" (1964)
Originally written for The Beatles, the third "Beach Party" movie "Bikini Beach"  was reconstructed to fit the "Annette and Frankie" mold and sees another adult puzzling over these beach bum kids and their habits – "imagine... boys and girls sleeping on the beach side-by-side, unchaperoned. Now what kind of society is it that would allow such a thing?" This time, it’s a millionaire with the ridiculous name of Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III (Keenan Wynn, son of Ed Wynn) who believes that his pet chimpanzee named Clyde is smarter than the whole lot of them. He may have a point as Clyde can surf, drive, and watusi. Along the way, we are introduced to Avalon’s personal acting range as he plays not only lovable Frankie but also Peter Royce Bentley aka “The Potato Bug” (a spoof of The Beatles and the Brits in general) who races cars and rocks hard (at least by the standard of these films). As you’d expect when Frankie acts a little commitment-phobic, Dee Dee turns to "The Potato Bug" and causes a jealous Frankie to challenge him to a drag race. It all culminates in a massive brawl (including the gang, the ape, and the millionaire) at Big Drag’s Pit Stop (Don Rickles' bar) and ends with a performance by Little Stevie Wonder playing the film out. Other tunes include Annette sweetly singing "This Time It’s Love" and a darling duet between Annette and Frankie in "Because You’re You." Keep your eyes open for Boris Karloff in a brief cameo as an art dealer (a reference to Vincent Price's commercials for Sears - "the Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art"). Also, listen for Elizabeth Montgomery (Samantha on "Bewitched") as the voice of Yvonne, the Lady Bug.  

Beach Blanket Bingo

"Beach Blanket Bingo" (1965)
The fourth "Beach Party" film, "Beach Blanket Bingo" marks Frankie Avalon’s final full appearance in a "Beach Party" movie and is considered by many the pinnacle of its genre, although I think it stands as a testament to how bizarre studio execs thought teenagers were in the '60s. The plot involves a singer named Sugar Kane (Linda Evans) whose manager (the incomparable Paul Lynde) is desperate to create a buzz and the regular Frankie and Dee Dee relationship drama ensues. Kane gets kidnapped and its up to the beach gang to save her. Along the way, Beach Party regular Bonehead (Jody McCrea, son of Joel McCrea) falls in love with a mermaid (Marta Kristen), as much sense as that makes. Oh, and did I mention there’s skydiving? Yes, after Sugar Kane's manager organizes a skydiving stunt, Frankie takes it up as a hobby and a jealous Dee Dee follows. Keep your eyes open for Don Rickles again and silent film star Buster Keaton. Tunes include the theme "Beach Blanket Bingo" and another great duet with Annette and Frankie in "I Think You Think."  

Back to the Beach, Annette Funicello

Back to the Beach“ (1987)
In her last starring role, Annette Funicello plays her onscreen '60s persona all grown-up, married to Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and settled out in Ohio. "Back to the Beach" brings the duo back to the surf, sand, and sun when they visit their daughter Sandi (Lori Loughlin - yes, that’s Rebecca from "Full House") who is shacked up with an unapproved surfer boyfriend (Tommy Hinkley). As Annette and Frankie try to make the beach fun again rather than seedy, Frankie is challenged to prove his status as The Big Kahuna by younger surfers and Connie Stevens threatens his marriage to Annette. Don’t worry - true to form, his title and the duo are safe. The film's myriad cameos include Bob Denver (Gilligan), O.J. Simpson, and Pee-wee Herman. Tunes include "Jamaica Ska" with Annette Funicello paired with the against-type alternative rock band Fishbone and "We’ll Go On Forever" with the cast and ending the film. Although it may not be anybody's favorite beach movie in lieu of others on this list, "Back to the Beach" was a pleasant albeit nostalgic update that kept the spirit of the original "Beach Party" movies and acted a peppy introduction to the genre for a younger generation of Annette and Frankie fans.  

Any fond memories of Annette Funicello from TV or the movies you'd like to share? Any personal faves that deserve a shout out? Share your thoughts below.

This article is related to: Annette Funicello, Features


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