Los Angeles: How do you sing “bop to the top” in Hindi? If you are Walt Disney Co., very carefully.
The media conglomerate is trying to expand the global reach of High School Musical to squeeze even more money from the franchise. The new efforts—which include a long-term London stage production, a touring stage show in Asia and music videos in 17 languages—are also intended to start prepping foreign markets for the musical’s high-stakes transition to the big screen.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year is scheduled for release in North American theatres in October, with a global premiere to follow soon after. “These are all building blocks,” said Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group. “Every new piece of this franchise opens a new door. Plans are already in place for years to come.”
Right note: In India, one of Disney’s most important foreign markets, the phrase Bop to the Top was changed to Pa Pa Pa Paye Yeh Dil.
Disney, which has had a 17% decline in its stock price over the last year, has been trying to convince Wall Street that its ability to leverage its offerings across its various divisions sets it?apart?from?other?media firms. Unlike News Corp. or Time Warner, for instance, Disney can use its theme parks and mammoth consumer products operations to milk its hits.
The worldwide push behind High School Musical is a test for the company’s franchise-management machinery, and not only because it requires Disney’s disparate fiefs to work together. While the property’s bubbly tone is easy to translate for foreign audiences, much of the colloquial language is not.
Consider Bop to the Top, the title of a song from the first movie. In India, one of Disney’s most important foreign markets, the phrase was changed to Pa Pa Pa Paye Yeh Dil, which the company said roughly translates to “the heart is full of happiness” in Hindi. A Hindi translator contacted by The New York Times said: “It’s sort of like a Duran Duran song. The words sound sexy, but mean nothing.”
The climax of High School Musical 2 comes in All for One, an ensemble number about friends sticking together. In India, the title became Aaja Nachle, which all agree means “come dance along”.
Rich Ross, president of Disney Channels Worldwide, said weaving High School Musical into the existing pop culture in various foreign markets was of increasing importance. “Localization really matters,” he said. “We’re pushing deeper into various countries. With the first movie, we didn’t do something special for the Netherlands. This time we did.”
Perhaps the song lyrics— and whether audiences can even understand them—do not matter so much. Last week, the domestic Disney Channel presented a series of music videos made by recording artists in various countries. According to Nielsen Media Research, more than 1.5 million children in the 6-11 age group watched Aaja Nachle.
Even in a foreign language, children “can feel what they’re saying”, Sweeney said.
While the first two High School Musical movies made their debuts on television, the success of High School Musical 3 will turn on how successful Disney is at persuading audiences to see it in a theatre.
Live tours are meant to help fans make the shift. Disney plans to announce later on Monday that a long-running stage production of High School Musical will open in London on 30 June; a previously announced tour in Britain kicks off on 19 February with $18 million (Rs71 crore) in advance ticket sales. Additional productions are now planned for Argentina, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and Switzerland, it said.
Disney is also set to announce an expansion abroad of High School Musical: The Ice Tour. The company has also decided to make performance rights available for High School Musical 2 to schools and amateur theatres around the world; Disney has licensed the first version 2,500 times in the US and 500 times overseas.
“The material is incredibly strong and lends itself perfectly to the live experience,” said Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Group. “Seeing these characters portrayed live allows our audiences to bond with the story in a completely new way,” he added.
©2008/The New York Times