'High School Musical' reunion reminded us we’re all in this together

The movie musical beloved by a generation celebrates its 10-year anniversary
The cast of Disney's "High School Musical" reunited for the movie's 10-year anniversary. The special aired Jan. 20, 2016. Courtesy of the Walt Disney Company

“High School Musical” is an anomaly.

It’s a made-for-TV movie in a world in which even theatrical releases can be horrible. Premiering on Disney Channel, its target audience was too young to blow a ton of money on the franchise the way passionate college students and young adults do. Not to mention, musicals usually gain fame on the stage, not movies (let alone one on television). It had all the ingredients to be a mediocre film, or possibly a total failure, as far as Disney media goes.

But as anyone who was in elementary school or early middle school during 2006 will tell you, that’s not what happened. It wasn’t just a success — it was a phenomenon. The premiere garnered a then-record 7.7. million viewers for Disney Channel. The soundtrack became the best-selling album of 2006. Perhaps the most amazing part is that it had two follow-ups, the last of which was a theatrical release. A made-for-TV movie for children managed to get its threequel into movie theaters.

For those who were children during the height of the phenomenon, it’s about more than just records or statistics. Every generation has a few pieces of media or songs that link together everyone in that particular age group. For many current college and high school students, there’s nothing quite as nostalgic and connecting as “High School Musical.”

When the 10-year reunion was announced, social media had a field day. I texted my suitemates immediately to let them know. We had just watched the movie a few months ago, and a few other friends from the floor joined us — that’s how long this movie has endured. On the day of the special, almost every female on the floor and a few guys piled into the lounge, vying for the best seat in the house. For many of us, it was just like fifth grade all over again: we were all piling onto the couches excitedly like it was a sleepover. We jokingly commented that Disney Channel’s median viewer age probably skyrocketed ten years that night.

And just like that, we were watching the snow fall on the ski lodge where Troy and Gabriella fatefully met 10 years ago. People shamelessly sang along, quoted their favorite lines and even started breaking out the “We’re All In This Together” choreography at the end. Lucas Grabeel, the actor who plays Sharpay’s hat-loving brother, Ryan Evans, said in a reunion segment he doesn’t “remember any of the words, but … remember(s) all the dances.” Turns out, the fans remember the words and the dances.

For a whole generation of now-young adults who have never forgotten the lyrics to “Breaking Free” (or any other song for that matter), there was nothing silly about gathering to watch a 10-year-old made-for-TV film and belting loudly during its musical numbers.

Looking back after 10 years reminded us of some of our favorite quotes and jokes (namely, the “Hip hop is my passion” girl), but also showed us that while our love of “High School Musical” is timeless, its wardrobe was not. From Gabriella’s velvet tracksuit to Sharpay’s dress-over-flared-jeans look, it was pretty clear how much our taste changed in ten years. (You can check our own trip down nostalgia lane with our collection of live-tweets at the bottom.)

What brings us back to this Disney classic despite its flaws? The soundtrack is not just nostalgic, it’s catchy. The choreography is incredibly fun. The script’s witty one-liners inspired giggles from even the first-time viewers in my watch party. The cast is also very diverse, even by today’s standards (just look at the Academy Awards nominations). Every young viewer could find someone to relate to. Even the antagonists had likability.

The moral also played a role in the musical’s lasting impact. While many movies attempt to teach children an important message, I really feel like “High School Musical” did influence this generation. It taught us that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to dance, or that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to what others tell us we should.

In my own high school, our star basketball player was an impressive concert pianist, and I remember his teammates coming to support him at the talent show (even though they didn’t know the best theatre etiquette). I had friends in marching band who didn’t get to perform on game days because they were also a member of the football team. One of the best members of our quiz bowl team was a lead in practically every musical he auditioned for. I can’t claim with 100 percent certainty that these people would’ve been made fun of in a pre-“High School Musical” world, but I do think that this film’s morals left a mark on quite a lot of people.

“High School Musical” remains a nostalgic favorite for many in this generation, and seeing the cast members we looked up to when we were younger get together again was pretty magical. The event gave us an excuse to pile together just like we were at a sleepover again, and it reminded us that as “High School Musical” fans, we are all in this together. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.

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