“It’s a crowd favorite. Everybody loves a good jazz square.”
High School Musical is a crowd favorite. “We’re all in this together.” “We’re breakin’ free.” “We’re gonna bop to the top.” If you’ve only seen one Disney Channel Original Movie in your life, it’s probably this one. If you’ve seen lots of Disney Channel Original Movies, you’ve probably watched this one a decent amount of times.
I wondered how I might see this movie in a fresh way, or how I’d write about it in a way I haven’t before. Once I started watching it again, it struck me that at one time, this whole enterprise was brand new. Every song. Every character. All their outfits, their sets. It sounds obvious, but to imagine these scenes being created and filmed, back when no one knew what was going to happen… mind-boggling. You think you’re making a TV movie, and suddenly, the world explodes with love for the Wildcats.
Sports DCOM meets DCOM musical. It was really the first of its kind on Disney Channel. Previous sports DCOMs abounded. On the music side, bands had been included, original songs had been featured, but none constituted a “musical.” Even The Cheetah Girls wasn’t a musical proper. That happened with the second and third films, after HSM.
Kenny Ortega made this movie a masterpiece, and he did it again many times over for the channel, from the High School Musical sequels to Descendants. 2006 had a total of six DCOMs. Airing HSM first seemed to set the tone for the entire year (and my whole middle school existence), as Hannah Montana soon followed, and later a musical Cheetah Girls sequel. Music on Disney Channel wasn’t new by any means, but suddenly, it was everywhere. We millennial fangirls were trying to dance like Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay, Ryan, Chad, Taylor, Martha, Zeke, and Jason — even onstage with our school choirs and drama classes… true story. At home and at birthday parties, we sang karaoke to the soundtrack. We bought stuff: additional songs on iTunes (anybody remember “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”??), board games, school supplies, Valentines.
But at the end of the day, this all started with one movie, then two, then three. I genuinely enjoyed rewatching the original. I sang my heart out on “Breakin’ Free.” I remembered how much I liked wearing those half-sweaters (they’re called shrugs) Vanessa Hudgens wears in the film. I still think Zac Efron was a natural in the Disney Channel crush department.
You probably don’t need me to tell you what all happens in this movie. In a nutshell, a New Year’s Eve karaoke surprise changes the course of two high schoolers’ lives. They discover their love for music and their fondness for each other. And, as we all should know by now, they see that they can be great at more than one talent in life. They realize that they can be friends with people who aren’t interested in exactly the same things. We can be different people and still be kind. Maybe even be friends.