Disney returns to ‘High School’

Spinoff to successful TV movie in the works

Sticking to its family entertainment strategy, the Mouse House has in the works a feature spinoff of “High School Musical,” the phenomenally successful telepic that aired on the Disney Channel last year.

“Haunted High School Musical” will unspool in 2008.

Announcement was made by Oren Aviv, prexy of production for the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, who spoke about the studio’s upcoming slate at the Mouse House’s investor conference on Thursday.

“High School Musical,” which preemed in January 2006, was a huge hit for the Disney Channel, reaching more than 100 million unique viewers worldwide. Pic has sold more than 6.5 million DVDs.

Aviv stressed Disney’s devotion to family-friendly franchises, as evidenced by the 2007 slate, which includes the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” installment, “National Treasure 2” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” a co-production with Walden Media.

Mouse House execs also said the studio remains committed to staying lean and that last year’s cutbacks were not a “one-time event.”

Last summer 650 positions were eliminated at Disney, accounting for a projected $100 million in savings.

Walt Disney Studios prexy Alan Bergman said the studio would continue to look for efficiencies, suggesting more layoffs are expected.

Gary Marsh, prexy of entertainment for Disney Channel Worldwide, referred to “Haunted High School Musical” during the cable net’s upfront presentation to advertisers Thursday at Gotham’s Hudson Theater. The “Musical” cast was not on hand due to rehearsals for the sequel in Utah but sent a brief video greeting.

Marsh did not describe the plot in any great detail but said it would pick up where the original left off, with all original cast members returning.

(Dade Hayes in New York contributed to this report.)

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