S (AFP) - A screen version of Disney's "High School Musical" hits cinemas this week with the kids from East High hoping for a sales clean-out at the box-office, music stores, concert halls and the web.
Initially a modest-budget TV film featuring the loves and lives of a singing and dancing band of teenagers, the debut 2006 musical comedy drew 7.7 million viewers, making it Disney Channel's top show ever.
The soundtrack became an instant hit with 4.1 million albums sold in the United States alone.
And since last year's release of "High School Musical 2" the musical has been dubbed into 24 languages and viewed by 250 million people.
"Kids are attracted by music and dance and a world of safety, connection bonds, friendship," director Kenny Ortega told AFP ahead of the October 22 release of the 30-million-dollar screen version in Britain, France, Egypt, Sweden and the Philippines.
"High School Musical 3: Senior Year" hits US screens a couple of days later and is due for release in 35 countries between October and February.
As high school seniors, co-stars Troy and Gabriella struggle with the idea of being separated from one another as college approaches. So along with their friends they stage a spring musical to address their experiences, hopes and fears.
"At the beginning fans were between nine and 15 and were mostly girls. In the US there are boys too now," said Ortega.
In Britain, male star Zac Efron who plays basketball captain Troy Bolton, already has his effigy at Madame Tussaud's waxworks museum in London though he will only turn 21 next weekend.
For Disney, the teen musical has proven a goldmine, with High School performances staged in Disney parks and the label appearing on books, magazines, videogames, school supplies and clothing.
Disney says music downloads off the web and other spin-off products are expected to generate 2.7 billion dollars over 2007-08, helping to ease concern over disappointing takings for Pixar's recent expensive animation "Wall-E".
The Disney empire's strategy is increasingly to shore up products while cutting back on the number of films produced in the studios.
So with the cash ringing in, a fourth "High School" sequel is already in the making as well as an Indian version to be shot in Bollywood.
Efron however says he is opting out as "it is time to grow up".
"The source of my inspiration," said Ortega, who is also the creator and director of the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds concerts, "was old movies after the war starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
"They were great escapism, stepping away from everything," he said. "I fell in love then with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers films."