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All in this together: the sprawling ‘High School Musical’ universe

“Breaking Bad.” “Star Wars.” “High School Musical.” What do these have in common? They are all sprawling franchises with films and television series, which all tell one cohesive story. (If one of these looks out of place, I don’t blame you. I also did not know Breaking Bad released a movie.) Jokes aside, it’s time to “get’cha head in the game,” because I am about to break down the expansive High School Musical franchise. 

The easiest place to start is the films: “High School Musical”, “HSM 2” and “HSM 3: Senior Year.” The first two films were released on 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 straight-to-television model. There was also a pilot for a TV spin-off, but it was never shown to the public. This takes us through the American installments of the franchise–with the emphasis on “American.” 

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

The franchise is still running, jumping from Disney Channel to Disney+. “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” makes the movies a fictional series (in the universe of the show) that the students perform as their school play, and the upcoming fourth season focuses on the fictional film “High School Musical 4: Reunion.” This segways well into the next piece of the High School Musical machine: real world domination. In 2006, Disney held a touring concert series to promote the film. Theater companies can license the rights to perform a stage adaptation of the first and second film. Additionally, there have been multiple reality shows to help Disney cast minor roles in the third film (“Get in the Picture”) and the foreign market films (“A Seleção”). 

Now here is where things get weird. In the second film, during the final musical number, one new character shows up: Miley Stewart, from “Hannah Montana,” played by Miley Cyrus. This blows the door wide open. “Hannah Montana” already exists in a connected universe of Disney TV shows, spanning as far back as “Boy Meets World” to recent shows such as 2015’s “Best Friends Whenever.” But, this is just Disney. We can take this so much further. 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 featured in an episode of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Spider-Man teamed-up with the Avengers, who have met the Simpsons. Homer Simpsons went to “Cheers.” “Cheers” introduced “Frasier.” Niles from Frasier was on “Caroline in the City,” whose titular character met Joey and Chandler from “FRIENDS.” Phoebe from “FRIENDS” is the sister of Ursula, the waitress in “Mad About You.” Kramer, from “Seinfeld,” made an appearance in “Mad About You.” And thus, the “High School Musical” to “Seinfeld” pipeline is complete, clearly the intention Disney Channel had all along. 

Dear readers, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but we are out of time. Next time you watch “High School Musical,” think about what you now know. It might change how you view the film. I know it has for me.

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.