All together: the sprawling universe of “High School Musical”

“Breaking Bad.” “Star Wars.” “High School Musical.” What do these have in common? They’re all sprawling franchises with movies and TV shows, all of which tell a cohesive story. (If any of them seem out of place, I don’t blame you. I also didn’t know Breaking Bad had a movie out.) Kidding aside, it’s time to “get your head in the game” , as I’m about to break down the vast High School Musical franchise.

The easiest place to start is the movies: “High School Musical”, “HSM 2” and “HSM 3: Senior Year”. The first two films were released on the Disney Channel in 2006 and 2007 respectively, with the third receiving a theatrical release in 2008. A fourth film, “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure”, debuted in 2011, returning to the direct-to-TV model. There was also a pilot for a television spin-off, but it was never shown to the public. This takes us through the American installments of the franchise – with an emphasis on “American.”

In 2008, the franchise found itself “breaking free” from the United States, with the release of two separate films released in Argentina and Mexico with both films titled “El Desafío”. A third adaptation, aimed at the Brazilian market, was released two years later, with a slightly different title: “O Desafio”. All three shared the same plot. A fourth spin-off, “High School Musical: China – College Dreams” was also released in 2010.

The franchise is still ongoing, moving from Disney Channel to Disney+. “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” makes the films a fictional series (in the series’ universe) that students perform as their school plays, and the upcoming fourth season focuses on the fictional film “High School Musical 4: Reunion.” This morphs nicely into the next piece of the High School Musical machine: real-world domination. In 2006, Disney held a series of touring concerts to promote the film. Theater companies may license the performance rights to a stage adaptation of the first and second film. Additionally, there have been several reality shows to aid Disney in minor roles in the third film (“Get in the Picture”) and foreign market films (“A Seleção”).

Now, this is where things get weird. In the second film, during the final musical number, a new character appears: Miley Stewart, from “Hannah Montana”, interpreted by Miley Cyrus. This blows the door wide open. “Hannah Montana” already exists in a connected universe of Disney TV shows, dating as far back as “Boy Meets World” to recent shows like 2015’s “Best Friends Whenever.” But that’s just Disney. We can go much further. It’s time for the lightning round!

Hannah Montana appeared in an episode of “Suite Life of Zack and Cody”. “Suite Life” character Mr. Moseby guest starred in an episode of “Jessie,” whose cast of characters appeared in an episode of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Spider-Man teamed up with the Avengers, who encountered the Simpsons. Homer Simpsons went to “Cheers”. “Cheers” introduced “Frasier”. Frasier’s Niles was on “Caroline in the City,” whose title character met Joey and Chandler from “FRIENDS.” Phoebe from “FRIENDS” is the sister of Ursula, the waitress at “Crazy of you.” Kramer of “Seinfeld” made an appearance on “Mad About You.” And so, the “High School Musical” to “Seinfield” pipeline is complete, clearly Disney Channel’s intention all along.

Dear readers, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but our time is up. The next time you watch “High School Musical,” think about what you know now. It might change the way you view the movie. I know it’s for me.

Contact Andy Ottone at [email protected]


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