The Commish Online                                                                                
Family Time, Disney Style
August 24, 2007

Any of you who have children between the ages of 5 and 15 are quite aware of the phenomenon called High School Musical.  Even more of you, with or sans children, are likely familiar with the franchise after over 17 million viewers tuned in to the Disney Channel last Friday for the sequel (appropriately titled High School Musical 2).  With several replays airing over the weekend and a likely well-placed repeat here and there over the next couple months, 17 million young viewers (and parents) watching a non-sporting event live on basic cable is a remarkable feat, especially considering many parents and kids alike were probably setting their DVRs to “record” so the younger ones could watch it ad nauseam until every song and dance move are committed to memory.  Of course, the feat is slightly less impressive knowing that the Disney marketing machine was behind the endeavor in a big way after the first High School Musical bested everyone’s expectations.

As a parent of four young children, my initial reaction to the mob mentality of all things Disney is usually mild outrage.  Charging an extra $10 for anything with a Disney princess on it is not my best use of recreational spending, nor is fighting and explaining to my kids why they can’t have an Ariel-embroidered wardrobe my best use of recreational time.  Somehow, though, I have softened amid all the High School Musical 2 (HSM2) hype.

Perhaps it’s the lack of many “water cooler” events that warmed me to HSM2.  Perhaps it’s because so many other important events in children’s lives now involve money, gifts, or general catering to the child.  HSM2 was simply a movie and popcorn – genuine family time.  It seems simple, but the days of The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, and Who’s the Boss are over.  Sit down with your 9-year-old after dinner nowadays and be treated to a grizzly, detailed murder on TV with more graphic violence than if you camped out in a real life ER.  Video games are no longer just a couple Italian guys catching mushrooms for points.  Instead, you earn a bonus for pulling the spine out of your opponent.

That’s not to say family fare no longer exists in our world; it just takes a little extra sifting to find the sugar.

Despite its obvious generalizations about high school, HSM2 is one of the few entertainment options aimed at children that is both popular and delivers a positive message.  The cool kids are cool because they are “doers,” regardless of the activity (sports, singing, dancing, acting, science, piano, etc.).  The snobby ones have trouble keeping friends.  In the end, the fundamental theme is that a good attitude and good behavior trumps all.  It’s a theme that seems so basic but is missing in so many of children’s entertainment choices today.

So rather than chastise Disney for creating yet another piece of marketing candy my children will surely eat up, I chose to sit back and enjoy the family time before I have to put the Zac Efron t-shirts back on the shelf amid the crying.