THE ENTIRE JUNIOR population of Hong Kong seemed to be glued to their screens last night as High School Musical 2 was premiered on Disney Channel in Asia -- marketed as a piece of good, clean, entertainment for children.
But a scandal involving indecent photos erupted at exactly the same time, which critics say will be a disaster for the franchise.
Yet the critics are wrong.
For people who don’t know about this phenomenon, it’s not a very uplifting story. Instead of investing time, money and energy into finding really good, original talent and doing a fine, well-written movie (the sort of process that produced masterpieces all the way from The Jungle Book to this month’s glorious Ratatouille), the Disney company did an experiment. Its TV movie division produced a film which was a sad, cheap compilation of teen-prom movie clichés. The money they saved by not using good writers, actors and directors they ploughed hyping the movie.
Their partners at Disney Channel programming gave unprecedented round-the-clock advertising slots to the movie for literally months before it ran -- all aimed at small children. In short they brainwashed young audiences (including my children and most of their friends) into believing that one of the greatest movies in film history had been produced just for them.
The result: a huge hit with young audiences (eight to 13) and massive profit in terms of CD, DVD and advertising sales.
The other result was horror from the film industry. If creating original characters, a good storyline, sharp dialogue and quality filmmaking were no longer the driving principles of producers, we were not just on a slippery slope downhill, but had fallen off the edge.
But money was all the men in suits cared about, so a sequel was commissioned.
The sequel last night was even worse than the original -- and that was the opinion of its biggest fans. Having small female children who watched it with a gaggle (a giggle, surely?) of their female friends, it was easy for me to pick up opinions from the horse’s mouths even before the show had ended.
Verdict: It was dumb and not very good but they would buy the soundtrack CD anyway.
And the scandal? Well, the clean, good-hearted heroine of the series, Gabriella, played by Vanessa Hudgens, was revealed to be somewhat less angelic than the character she portrays -- thanks to material posted on to the Internet. Rather indistinct pictures taken on a phone show her pouting in skimpy clothes, and in one shot she is naked. Rumors are afloat about other pictures or videos of a similar nature in existence.
[Incidentally, thanks to the reader who sent me the offending image of Ms Hudgens, but it’s seriously Not My Thing. I’ll forward it to readers who want it for sociological study purposes, but if more of these emerge, don’t send them to me, please.]
Critics are in high gear this morning starting to pontificate as to whether this scandal is the end of her career or the end of the High School Musical franchise.
But of course, it is neither. Think about it.
Losing your clothing in front of cameras is, sad to say, not a career limiting move for an actress in this world we live in, but the opposite.
And as for the show, having a minor scandal attached to it will attract the attention of older youths, who have been dismissive of it until now.
So the Ms Hudgens and the show both win.
Who loses? The rest of us. People who believe that the society should give its attention to writers and performers who are creative, talented and original; and not to those who make their name through the seedy backdoor route of high-pressure advertising to small children, or those for whom sexploitation is a legitimate route to the top.
Here endeth today’s sermon.