by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & High School Musical & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ince its first telecast on the Disney Channel in January, High School Musical has charted five hit singles, gone triple platinum, sold 400,000 DVDs in one day and prompted the powers at Disney to green-light not just a sequel, but to re-shoot the original as a Bollywood spectacular for the Indian market and in Spanish for Latin America. And it did it all on the strength of the nag power of 9-to-14-year-olds. That is, it happened right under our noses ... we who don't usually watch the Disney Channel for fear of accidentally seeing That's So Raven.

So how did it happen? How did a bunch of TV-show guest actors, the director of a handful of Gilmore Girls episodes and the writer of the Wesley Snipes' guns 'n' parachutes epic Drop Zone create a 'tween masterpiece? They didn't. Not really. Musical is such a huge hit because the Disney/ABC/MTV home offices have handed down their marketing synergy from on high. Every frame of this film is designed to sell like hotcakes and cross-promote like hell.

They've got timeless themes (hacked from Romeo and Juliet's much defiled corpses) set in the insipid high school dystopia that 'tweens so desperately want in on, all mixed with a corporate spirit of inclusiveness throughout. They want to you be yourself, especially if being yourself means singing along to High School Musical. You shouldn't feel bad about buying their product. It's cool, so just do it.

But they're not just looking to sell DVDs. Your 10-year-old wants to be these kids, and how better to be them than to buy the album and sing along? From its conception -- from the musical conceit to its perfectly bland title -- this film was designed to propel album sales.

So why'd they air it on TV? Hype, for one, and to get you hooked on their hooks (which bite everyone from Slash to Justin Timberlake). The first taste is always free. Then, once they've got you, they put out an album, then a special-edition album. Then -- and oh God, is this good -- they put out a DVD with an alternate sing-along Encore Edition of the film. Now you actually can be the characters you've been programmed to love. (Rated PG)

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