While most movie-watching eyes were on the theatrical box office this weekend, wondering if Superbad would surpass expectations and if The Invasion would crash, another demographic had a higher priority -- the hotly anticipated premiere of High School Musical 2 Friday night on The Disney Channel. If you don't have a tween, it might not have been on your radar, but if you, like me, have a girl between the ages of 9-12 in your house (and be honest, a lot of you high school girls were watching it too) you've been hearing of little else for weeks.
In our house, we became aware of the phenomena that is High School Musical when the first one premiered on January 20, 2006. Our daughter, then almost-nine, DVRed it and she (and we, by default) watched that movie so many times that it wasn't unusual for me or my husband to be caught absent-mindedly singing "We're All in This Together" or "Get Your Head in the Game" -- two of the shows most popular tunes -- while we bopped about the house doing chores. Then they had the karaoke version, and the version where the cast taught you the moves to the choreography for "We're All in This Together" step-by-step, and pretty soon even the two-year old was showing off his "cool moves" to company. To be perfectly honest, the first movie isn't as bad as you might think; in fact, as my "serious musician" brother might say about a popular pop band, for what it is, it's pretty good. Maybe someone at Disney had an inkling just how much the squeaky-clean High School Musical would resonate with its target market, or maybe they just hoped it would be well-received and were surprised at the tenacity with which tweens have latched onto Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), Chad (Corbin Bleu) and Taylor (Monique Coleman).
Disney has produced some other made-for-cable movies targeting tweens, including Cow Belles, starring the popular sister duo of AJ and Aly, whose songs are often found at the top of the Radio Disney chart, Twitches, starring another sister pair, Tia and Tamara Mowry (with Twitches Too currrently filming), the three Halloweentown films (the first of those is now edging close to being a decade old, but it's still popular when it reruns), and, more recently, Jump In!, starring Efron's sidekick Bleu in the lead role with a storyline about a young boxer who gets pulled into the world of competitive jump roping. None of those, though, have quite matched the appeal of High School Musical, which struck a chord with the younger set that shows no sign of slowing down.
My husband, bless his heart, drew the short straw and had to accompany our daughter when the "High School Musical Tour" came rolling into town. He put on his game face and went bravely into the lion's den of thousands of screaming, giggly girls who acted as though Efron and Co. were the new Beatles (I know, sacrilege to even say such a thing, and the ref would have been lost on all those girlie-girls anyhow). After the show, he bemusedly reported on a couple of older teen girls sitting in front of them (far from the only older teens there, btw) who sat bored through the pre-show action acting as though they didn't want to be there (he thought they might have been forced to accompany their kid sisters or something, but they had no tweens in sight). When Zac and the gang stormed out onto the stage, though? Those teenagers were on their feet screaming at the top of their lungs just like the younger set.
Given the success of the first High School Musical, it was pretty much inevitable that a High School Musical 2 would be made. On Friday afternoon, my daughter got an invite to a spontaneous High School Musical 2 party being thrown by another homeschooler, and she excitedly accepted, then spent an hour getting ready for the big bash. The house was decorated for the party, with "Go Wildcats" signs everywhere. Six giggly girls settled in with chips and dip, popcorn, and the High School Musical soundtrack on CD to dance to during commercial breaks. They weren't alone -- some 17.2 MILLION viewers watched Friday night's premiere, according to the New York Times, making High School Musical 2 the most-watched event ever on cable television, surpassing even the premiere of "Monday Night Football" on ESPN (and hey, if you can beat out beer-swilling football fans, you must be on to something) -- and making the stars of the film -- especially Efron -- a force to be reckoned with. If High School Musical 2 had been playing in theaters instead of on cable, how much box office would it have raked in?
Almost 47 million viewers have watched the first High School Musical at least once, according to a 2006 Newsweek article, the soundtrack CD was the highest-selling CD of the year, and the DVD had sold 2.7 million copies by the time that article went to print (no doubt it's sold a lot more in the ensuing year, as buzz continued to grow). And don't get me started on the merchandise tie-ins breaking piggy banks (and parents' wallets) across America; not only can you wear High School Musical shirts, you can decorate your room High School Musical style, adorn your walls with posters of the East High crew (and get the ever-popular locker posters of Efron that are in all the teen mags, so you can blow him kisses between classes) and even sleep with your head on your very own Zac throw pillow.
A lot of Hollywood films would like to boast numbers like that -- look for the High School Musical 2 CD and DVD sales to top those of the first flick; in this demographic, no one wants to be left behind the pack, and even those who missed the boat the first time around will be getting on the Wildcat bandwagon. Hollywood has, at the very least, sat up and taken notice of High School star Zac Efron, who is currently one of the hottest young stars out there, coming off a role in Hairspray, and with a Footloose remake waiting in the wings.
Will the flocks of Efron fans who loved him as Troy flock to see him on the big screen? You bet they will, especially if the folks who make that film are smart and market it directly at that tween and teen market. With Grease on Broadway, can a remake be far behind (and you just know someone has their eye on Efron to take on the role of Danny Zuko). Oh, yeah, and according to IMDb, Efron is also in talks already on High School Musical 3. As my daughter and her friends might say, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeek!" Go, Wildcats!