Disney’s Big-Budget Production

1/06/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

Disney Channel is hitting some high notes in support of its first original movie of the year, High School Musical.

“We’re spending double what we normally spend because we see an opportunity to kick off 2006 with a great statement,” senior vice president of marketing Matt Palmer said. But he would not disclose the marketing budget for the film, which debuts Jan. 20.

Disney has high hopes for the musical because of the quality of the production, described as a “West Side Story for tweens.”

The two featured actors, Zac Effron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens, fight stereotypes as they follow their dreams to audition for a high-school musical.

Executives said the themes of the movie — which demonstrates the value of familial support and the effect of following one’s dreams — are fundamental building blocks of the Disney philosophy.

Producer Bill Borden’s vision was for a Broadway musical, but scaled for TV. He was glad when Disney Channel bought the concept: If the script had been bought as a theatrical film “they’d insist we move outside the school,” he said.

Instead, Disney Channel took over a high school, which meant the performers could learn their numbers on one part of the campus while shooting continued elsewhere.

The network has successfully implemented a three-airing strategy for its films for five years, premiering them on Friday with reprises on Saturday and Sunday. Disney Channel will enhance that strategy with this film, relying heavily on eight original songs to prime viewership.

Advertisements in magazines such as Teen People and promos on Radio Disney will direct fans to the corporate Web site, where viewers can download an MP3 version of one of the songs featured in the film. To access the download, available through Jan. 31, the users must have a code they see in the ad or hear on the radio spot.

For the showing on Saturday night, viewers can go online to obtain a “High School Musical party kit,” designed to help children host a sing-along party.

Sunday’s telecast will be paired with a one-time-only showing of a “making of” documentary on the musical.

Borden said High School Musical is intended to be a three-part telefilm; the second installment has already been written.