If you happen to have a child in junior high school or younger you already know that the Disney television movie "High School Musical" is a gigantic hit. People magazine editor at large and The Early Show entertainment contributor Jess Cagle explains why kids love it so much.
Since the movie debuted on the Disney Channel this past January, the made-for-cable movie has become a phenomenon with the "tween set," the 9- to 14-year-olds. The movie scores huge ratings every time Disney re-airs it and the show's soundtrack has produced several hit songs. Later this week, the DVD is slated for release and is expected to fly off store shelves.
"High School Musical" is squeaky clean, but kids have embraced it. The movie has aired 10 times on the Disney Channel to an audience of 34 million viewers — a phenomenal number for a cable movie.
"We had no idea that it was going to be this big but we got lucky it turned out to be a phenomenon. Musicals haven't been done in such a long time for kids, its something new," Vanessa Hudgens, who plays a shy, but brainy high school student who meets a guy she likes while on vacation.
When she transfers to a new school, Hudgens' character discovers they're in the same class. It's a plot that may sound vaguely familiar.
Asked if she thinks there are parallels to the iconic 1970s movie "Grease," Hudgens agrees. "It's basically the same thing — the whole high school genre and everything. Without all the bad stuff. Gabriella doesn't wear the leather pants at the end of the story."
Ken Tucker, DVD critic for "Entertainment Weekly" says there's a reason why the movie is so wholesome. " 'High school musical,' like the title says, is set in a high school but its aimed at a slightly younger audience. To hit the preteens you have to make the heroes teenagers so that the preteens think they're seeing something really cool," he explains.
"I think that when you're a young person in school these days you're part of a click, and it's a very potent thing to see a TV movie that shows clicks can be broken though, go from being a nerd to being part of the popular crowd," Tucker adds. "It's one of those 'crossing the boundaries' things that's very appealing to young audiences."
Another reason for the show's success is its music, which kids can't get enough of. The movie soundtrack has gone double platinum, climbed the Billboard charts to No. 1 and generated five hit singles.
Ashley Tisdale, who plays a competitor for the musical lead, says she finds it all hard to believe. "For the album to be No. 1 in the Billboards, that's like crazy, and apparently I'm the first female artist to have two songs debut on the top 100 at the same time," she says. "It doesn't make sense, that's like crazy. It's crazy to think of all these singers and artists and stuff and they're like, 'You're the first female artist.' It's nuts."
As a bonus, the DVD includes a sing-along version with song lyrics.
And though its stars are surprised at the movie's success, Lucas Grabeel, who portrays Tisdale's brother, believes there's a reason it's so popular. "It just works. That's the only explanation I can come up with. It's great for pop culture because it's got a little cheese, it's got a classic story line that we all know, it's got great characters and good music all thrown into together."
Since the movie is such a hit, of course there's a sequel now in the works. And Cagle reports there's a good chance there may be other musicals aimed at the pre-high school set in the works.