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Published: Saturday, 8/25/2007

On TV, clean is good

IT'S hard to explain why a low-budget sleeper movie made for the Disney Channel became a monster hit with teens and 'tweens worldwide. It must be a generational thing because the 15-and-under crowd can't get enough of the TV movie, High School Musical or its soundtrack, or the more than 100 "HSM" products licensed by Disney.

And now the fallout from its eagerly awaited and obsessively embraced sequel, High School Musical 2, promises to be just as sensational. It's perplexing. The films are so cheesy and squeaky clean that some grown-ups describe them as "cringe-inducing vanilla pap with no grip on the realities of high school."

But considering what kids are exposed to with drugs, sex, and violence, they could do a lot worse than being helplessly swept up in a likeable song and dance flick sanitized for adolescents. It's often been called a modern-day Grease but its appeal may even top the excitement generated by the John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John film.

According to Nielsen, when the original "HSM" came out in DVD, it turned into the fastest-selling television movie of all time. Its soundtrack was the No. 1 U.S. album last year.

Remarkably, "HSM" and its sequel have given birth to a full-fledged franchise of products and live performances. The Disney Channel boasts that more than 170 million viewers in 16 countries have seen High School Musical since it first aired in January, 2006.

The recent premier of "HSM2" was one of the biggest TV events of the year for thousands of kids. And besides being good, clean entertainment parents can feel comfortable about, there appears to be another plus to the movies. They seem to be turning a whole new generation on to musical theater.

Apparently, many areas report significantly higher interest in high school and local community theater among kids who never took part in any production. That, says Kenny Ortega, the choreographer-director who staged the big numbers in "HSM" and HSM2," is what excites him most about the intense response of his young audiences.

In this day and age of sedentary kids, it's not hard to explain why.



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