Tweens and High School Musical 2: Old School Media for a New Generation
From the beginning, I had no illusions about understanding High School Musical 2.
I knew the peculiar combination of well-scrubbed young actors, kinetic pop tunes and sitcom-style storylines would escape my jaded adult sensibilities. So it only made sense to bring along my two tween-age daughters when I got a chance to review the sequel to the Disney Channel's most successful made-for-TV movie ever.
Thanks to the local Verizon folks, I was able to score an advance peek at the movie by schlepping to one of their Tampa stores (Verizon FiOS TV customers got access to High School Musical 2 via video on demand a week before the rest of us peons). Bringing my two girls to their Carrollwood showroom with me not only ensured they would have bragging rights among their friends for a while, it gave me a change to see this tween phenomenon through the eyes of those most connected to it. That's So Raven, Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. For an adult, watching these shows is like turning back the pages of time to the '70s heyday of cheap situation comedies, where outlandish premises, over the top acting and sets that look crafted from cardboard ruled the day.
And I learned something odd: it's all about old school media in a new package.
No wonder young viewers could care less about traditional TV comedies these days. By the time they graduate high school, they've overdosed on such shows -- watching old school comedies probably feels like hanging out at the kiddie table.
The word blockbuster doesn’t seem adequate to describe how the first High School Musical took over the attention of fans aged 9 to 14 – better known as the “tween” demographic. Nearly 8-million kids watched the movie when it debuted in January 2006, spawning sales of 7-million CDs, 8-million DVDs and viewings by 170-million people globally.
And now. with the sequel poised to break new records tonight with freshly-minted stars such as Zac Efron, Corbin Bleu and Vanessa Hudgins, the movie's roots in long ago Hollywood musical styles seems clear.
My daughters know ‘70s-era hits such as Will it Go Round in Circles and Do You Believe in Magic because of Raven co-star Orlando Brown and Aly and A.J. And now, thanks to Disney’s talent for reinventing old media, they’ve discovered the wonder of the made-for-TV musical -- minus the smoking, premarital sex and bad spandex clogging the musical which teens got into when I was in that demographic, Grease!
So now the secret of High School Musical -- and just about every other tween media phenomenon -- can be told. It's just old fashioned media dressed up for an audience too young to remember the stuff in its original form.
Enjoy it while it lasts, kiddies. Because once you learn old media's tricks, it's all downhill from there.