Happy birthday, “High School Musical”! Sixteen years ago today you were born on Disney Channel at 8-7pm Central Time. Now you’re as old as the high school kids featured in the first movie. Oh, how time flies.
It all started with a cute encounter during a karaoke duet sung by Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) at a holiday party at a ski lodge. Then, the beautifully perfect coincidence of Gabriella’s transfer to Troy’s school, East High, brings them together on stage again, this time for the spring musical auditions.
Jealous of the two newcomers for stealing her limelight in the acting department, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) conspires to ruin their chances of landing the lead roles in revenge on Troy and Gabriella for overstepping the bounds of the status quo. Their sparks both on and off stage complicate Troy’s role as basketball captain and Gabriella’s involvement in the academic decathlon, with the two trying to balance the expectations placed on them with their newfound passions and their budding romance.
With the next two movies featuring as many cheesy song breaks and tender coming-of-age moments as the original, the complete “HSM” trilogy managed to win hearts and raise expectations of kids (aka me ) who had no idea what high school was like — let alone love —.
The three “High School Musical” films – my personal holy trinity – have been my favorite comfort films for as long as I can remember. Whether I’m making my way to the front row of the cinema at premieres, putting on my headphones at the start of a long road trip, or curling up in the safety of my room after a particularly crushing week, it’s safe to say I spent countless hours watching these movies and singing along to the soundtrack.
The very first song from the soundtrack – “The Beginning of Something New” – certainly set the tone for the trilogy which features so many moments of self-discovery, unknown opportunities and blossoming relationships. Ironically, this song also set the tone for the role that “High School Musical” played in the entertainment sphere in which its impact is still noticeable all these years later.
“High School Musical” was a low-budget movie with many Hollywood unknowns that was originally considered a risk because there weren’t many notable hits of the genre at the time. However, a new generation of fans began to love live-action musicals thanks to the “HSM” franchise, and the massive success of the first film started this production trend in film and television. Jukebox and original musicals like “Mamma Mia,” “Hairspray” and “Sweeney Todd” — in addition to musical TV series like “Glee” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” — owe some of their success (and their existence as well, in a way) to the “HSM” legacy and its large audience open to the consumption of similar entertainment.
When you look at how “High School Musical” influenced Disney Channel as a whole, its impact is seen in several notable titles that were staples of my childhood and millions of others my age.
Disney Channel Original Movies had such momentum after “HSM” that it quickly led to the production of the “Camp Rock” franchise. Although its success did not surpass that of “High School Musical”, “Camp Rock” launched the careers of Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers. The “HSM” legacy-influenced lineup of DCOM musicals also includes “Lemonade Mouth”, “Descendants” and “Teen Beach Movie”, to name a few.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” the highly anticipated TV reboot of the trilogy whose first season was released in 2019. Against notice (in hindsight, rather dramatic) of my friends who said anyone who liked the original movies would consider ‘HSMTMTS’ a disgrace, I relented and dropped the first season on Disney+ after YouTube recommended Olivia Rodrigo’s Genius video to me, which plays main character Nini in “HSMTMTS,” explaining the lyrics to “All I Want,” an original song she wrote for the series.
To my surprise, I didn’t hate the reboot. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought, even though I was maybe a bit older than the target audience. The mockumentary twist of East High students performing “High School Musical” as their own high school musical included all of the best concepts from the original movies — cute coming-of-age moments, cliché high school romance, and a perfect blend of classic ‘HSM’. “Songs and a reboot of the originals – in a way that was only a tiny bit scarier.
And did I openly cry on a plane while watching the season one finale of “HSMTMTS”? Yes, but we don’t need to talk about it. It can stay between us. Anyway… let’s move on…
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The “HSM” trilogy is as cheesy as it is predictable, but that’s the best, most heartwarming thing about it for me. It turned me into a hopeless romantic at such a young age, and I had a hard time getting rid of that naïve personality entirely. When I spent my junior year on New Year’s Eve at midnight crushed in the backseat of an Uber and not singing karaoke with a guy as dreamy as Troy Bolton, I knew the rest of my experience at high school was going to be a extreme disappointment compared to the one I romanticized growing up watching “HSM” movies.
A lot can happen in 16 years, because I’m sure we can all agree looking back on our own experiences growing up. Although the “High School Musical” movies themselves have remained the same, their audiences and the realm of the entertainment industry in which they exist have experienced lasting change and influence that deserves, at the very least, a nod. of recognition – no matter what you think of “High School Musical”, the reboot or any of the DCOMs and the live musicals that followed it.
For my part, I will probably be a die-hard fan of director Kenny Ortega’s masterpieces and will absolutely force my kids to sit down and watch what I consider true classics. I confess that I have a private playlist on Spotify with all the songs from “High School Musical” and reboot that I listen to whenever I’m looking for a hit of nostalgia, but that will take a lot more than an article from Chronicle that I don’t know how many people read to admit how many have appeared on my Spotify Wrapped over the years.
Growing up with this trilogy may have made me inherently naive, but for the sake of my dignity and after writing this piece, I refuse to believe that I am alone on this. Everyone has a favorite childhood show or movie they still secretly love, and I’m the one who shamelessly admits mine. I may have to redownload Disney+ to rewatch all the movies on the sweet 16th of the movie. And, if you ask me, January 20 should totally be a national holiday.