‘High School Musical 2′

Tonight marks one of the summer's most anticipated events -- one of the year's most anticipated events -- at least among the 6- to 16-year-old...

Tonight marks one of the summer's most anticipated events -- one of the year's most anticipated events -- at least among the 6- to 16-year-old set: the US premiere of Disney's High School Musical 2.

Everyone will be there.

But that's news even the staunchest kid-avoider would be hard-pressed to miss. When the Disney Channel launched its original HSM in early 2006, the low-budget, made-for-TV movie sparked an international mania. More than 180 million viewers have watched the movie worldwide, including 5.8 million in July 2007; that made HSM last month's eighth-most-watched primetime cable telecast, 17 months and 20 repeats after its original release.

Tonight -- and again, tomorrow and Sunday -- tweens, teens (and their parents, if they're allowed) will hang in TV rooms across America to watch the sequel. And Radio Disney-organized HSM2 viewing parties are scheduled to fill school stadiums and community centers with zealous-but-wholesome East High School Wildcats fans by the thousands.

Will HSM2 mania match that of its predecessor? Disney thinks so. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company is already planning big for the franchise's future, with soon-to-appear off-screen tie-ins including an ice show, karaoke-style video game, and cosmetics line. It also plans to release the third HSM, due out next year, in theaters rather than on the Disney Channel.

In the meantime, the movie's singing, dancing cast of fresh-faced innocents are busy helping kids get ready for back-to-school: They're currently featured in print ads upholding the benefits of drinking milk, and have even partnered with Wal-Mart stores to provide complimentary summer's-over wake-up calls through September 15.

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