IT'S been a big summer for tweens and teens. First the final "Harry Potter" book and now the long-awaited television premiere of "High School Musical 2."
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this event in so many young lives. The Disney Channel's 2006 movie "High School Musical" remains a bona-fide phenomenon, a success so huge that the human brain cannot quite fathom it. Not since the ladies who matinee discovered Michael Crawford in "Phantom of the Opera" has there been such a rabidly devoted fan base. Recently, this critic mentioned to a group of 5- to 15-year-olds that she happened to have a review copy of the film and was thinking of watching it with a group of kids to get their reaction . . . not that I actually got that far; somewhere after "copy of," my words were drowned in a cacophony of shrieks and whoops and cartwheels.
Not surprisingly, the television movie has already spawned a record-breaking soundtrack, much merchandising, a traveling stage musical (Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, was spotted navigating her kids through the packed Chicago opening) and, come September, a "High School Musical on Ice" show. With the tween and teen markets threatening to overthrow the boomers, it just may be that "High School Musical" is bigger than the Beatles. And the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. So you do the math.
What makes the saga more than just another Disney machine marketing coup is that "High School Musical" is a sweet, wholesome story with swinging good tunes and a truly aspirational message embraced by parents as well as young viewers. Not only is East High a drug-free, graffiti-free Shangri-La of public education with dance-number-friendly pillars where the metal detectors should be, the cast members are as multihued as they are ebullient -- the main love story involves the Caucasian Troy and Latina Gabriella, but the Romeo-Juliet obstacle is jock versus brains rather than Shark versus Jets. There is pettiness, sure, and snarkiness, but the kids express real teenage emotion without damaging property or even uttering a "sucks." Yet the treacle factor remains amazingly low.
"High School Musical 2" is a similar mix of pep and conflict as Troy, Gabriella and crew go on summer vacation with, naturally, nary a parent in sight. As with the "Harry Potter" series, "High School Musical" is about loyalty and self-discovery, with song and soft-shoe instead of wands and the scheming drama queen Sharpay instead of Voldemort. Both are fantasy worlds with one foot in reality, and both are reassuring in their huge popularity. "Life is hard," is the message, "but it's easier with friends."
And while most kids can't levitate a broomstick, almost anyone can help put on a show.
McNamara is a Times TV critic.