Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2" stars Corbin Bleu as Chad Danforth, Monique Coleman as Taylor McKessie, Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez, Zac Efron as Troy Bolton, Ashley Tisdale as Sharpay Evans and Lucas Grabeel as Ryan Evans.
BY DIANE WERTS | firstname.lastname@example.org 11:38 AM EDT, August 15, 2007 Article tools E-mail Share Digg Del.icio.us Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo Print Single page view Reprints Reader feedback Text size: Bet you didn't know this weekend's most anticipated movie is "a cautionary tale about learning to pay attention to your own internal moral compass."
You probably thought "High School Musical 2" would be about songs, dancing and cute teens in cool clothes cutting loose without adult supervision (while still remaining good kids any parent would be proud to claim).
Or maybe, just maybe, you were also thinking "HSM2" could be another golden - no, platinum - opportunity for the Disney folks to start printing more money in outrageously big batches.
Related links Clips from 'High School Musical 2' Video 'High School Musical 2' Photos Review: 'High School Musical 2' 'HSM' sightings 'HSM' made Zac Efron a star A 'Musical' sleep(less)over 'High School Musical' adds to ice show After all, the original "High School Musical" TV movie that debuted in January 2006 on Disney Channel stirred such rabid obsession among tweens (those 9-to-14-year-olds who aren't little kids but aren't quite "teenagers" either) that it spawned a marketing machine now estimated by analysts to have raked in anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion. Its reach has been immense:
The movie's two dozen subsequent repeats propelled Disney Channel to record ratings. "HSM" has since aired in a hundred other countries (often on the 27 international Disney channels), to an estimated 170 million viewers. India and South America are among the regions getting their own ethnic-specific "HSM" remakes.
The film's DVD releases (the original and a two-disc "remix") and CDs (soundtrack and sing-along) reportedly have sold at least 7 million each.
Officially licensed products include karaoke discs, video games, novelizations, T-shirts, backpacks, lunch boxes, lamps, plates, dolls, even musical panties.
Disney has mounted concert tours with the original cast, a traveling stage production with professional substitutes and a just-debuting ice show. They've also licensed 2,000 school/amateur versions to be produced around the globe.
How to top that? With "HSM2," premiering Friday at 8 p.m. - after a one-week preview on digital cable's Disney On Demand service.
Keeping up the interest
The Disney folks prefer to emphasize the family-friendly entertainment merit of a brand that financial experts say helped boost the value of the conglomerate's stock more than 50 percent in the past two years. But sometimes a more cold hard truth slips out, as when Disney Channel Worldwide president Gary Marsh was talking to TV critics before the "HSM2" panel at a recent press tour in Beverly Hills.
"Our challenge to the filmmakers was not how to do it better," Marsh said with surprising candor, "but how to do it differently and still maintain the essence of 'High School Musical.' How do we explore new themes and not retrace our steps from what we created already?"
That's where the "moral compass" thing comes in. If the original was about "expressing yourself and following your dreams," Marsh explained, the sequel is about "understanding that if that compass loses its bearings, there are consequences that are real and painful."
Short version: Returning hero Troy (played by dreamy Zac Efron) gets his head turned by material girl Sharpay (witchy Ashley Tisdale), and so neglects his new squeeze Gabriella (cute Vanessa Hudgens) and old pal Chad (supercute Corbin Bleu), until he has to decide who he really is. This takes place amid songs, dancing, cute clothes and cutting loose during a summer when all his school's Wildcats work together at a scenic desert country club.
That moral-of-the-story springs from a discovery by Disney's "HSM"-meisters after the original became a blockbuster sensation. Their "Grease"- for-a-new-generation turned out to have a substantial impact on high school culture they hadn't anticipated from the simple tale of a hotshot basketball player who decides to try out for, yes, his high school musical.
"We just set out to do a fun story," scripter Peter Barsocchini said at the press tour, "but the feedback we're getting is it's having an influence of being inclusive, rather than exclusive, between athletes and drama kids." When the movie's athletes sang and danced with their round balls, it made such "artsy" activity seem, well, macho.
"Drama teachers are shocked," Barsocchini said, "that kids are coming from the sports teams to audition" for their own high school musicals.
Not bad for a little flick that, like most Disney Channel productions, was done on the cheap. "HSM" cost just $4 million to produce - roughly equaling two hours of episodic TV, which doesn't have huge musical numbers. The sequel is said to have run about $7 million, despite grander settings. Director Kenny Ortega, repeating as filmmaker/choreographer, said at press tour he had less than three weeks to rehearse "HSM2's" 10 production numbers. (If you count nine, it's because one is destined to surface as an extra feature on the yet-to-be-announced DVD.) In a time when $200-million theatrical films are common, with no guarantee anybody wants to see them, another "HSM" is as close to slam-dunk profit as it gets.
So it's no shock to hear there's an "HSM3" in the works for 2008. Though Internet rumors say it's about the prom, graduation or a haunted tale for Halloween, Marsh insisted "there's really nothing to talk about at this stage. We are writing a script. We are talking with all the talent involved."
Efron told critics he'd "like to see a real senior year. A graduation or a prom dance would be great."
Co-star Lucas Gabreel (self-absorbed Sharpay's frustrated younger brother/lapdog) thought "all of the Wildcats should go into space - 'High School Musical With Aliens.'"
One critic wondered if Marsh had the cast signed for "Rest Home Musical."
He replied, "I think we owe this man a royalty if we do."
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