How “Cheetah Girls” paved the way for future Disney Channel musical films


Long before the current Disney Channel musical film franchise, “Descendants,” hit the scene and started breaking viewership records and selling massive amounts of soundtrack albums, “The Cheetah Girls” has it all. done first.

Adapted from Deborah Gregory’s eponymous book series, “The Cheetah Girls” premiered 15 years ago on August 15, 2003, becoming the network’s first original Disney Channel musical film. The iconic film, directed by Oz Scott, starred Raven-Symoné (Galleria), Adrienne Houghton (Chanel), Sabrina Bryan (Dorinda) and Kiely Williams (Aqua) as four high school friends trying to make their group dreams come true. some girls.

The film not only holds its place in DCOM history as the first of its kind, but also as the reason that all subsequent blockbuster films in the genre were made in the first place. Disney Channel realized with “The Cheetah Girls” that its viewers appreciate and crave this type of content. The film and its stars acted as “guinea pigs” for the network, Bryan told International Business Times, as they worked to determine the size of the franchise. And how they could possibly replicate it for future musical DCOMs to come.

“The Cheetah Girls” premiered on the Disney Channel in 2003. Photo: Disney Channel

“You sound like ‘High School Musical’ and for us I think what’s always been so fun is that we’ve led the way,” Bryan told IBT. “We were really the ones [where Disney kind of went], ‘Oh, that didn’t work.’ And they would change it for the next thing.

Williams echoed the thought, explaining to IBT that “it was kind of like a test” and no one “really knew what was going to happen or how it was going to be”. It wasn’t until they got the huge response they got that Disney realized they had to keep going and that there was “a huge market” for it.

Basically, the “High School Musical”, “Camp Rock”, “Teen Beach Movie” and “Descendants” phenomena exist because “The Cheetah Girls” made it possible. It was shown to 6.5 million total viewers, making it the highest rated original film on Basic Cable in many categories including Kids 6-11, Tweens 9-14, Girls 6-11 and Female Tweens 9-14. These were the markets that Disney Channel cared about and they loved the movie.

“It was amazing, it just took off,” Bryan told IBT. He did, and Disney was unprepared.

“The soundtrack was hardly going to arrive,” the actress revealed. “Our contracts were for the movie, so we had to come back and do a different signage for the music for the soundtrack… Basically the producer, Debra Martin Chase, came on the channel and said, ‘We have this music. original, and That’s good. It goes with the film. She really pushed to make a soundtrack out of it.

Cheetah Girls First Kiely Williams, Sabrina Bryan, Raven-Symoné, Lynn Whitfield and Adrienne Bailon at the “The Cheetah Girls” premiere on Disney Channel. Photo: Matthew Peyton / Getty Images

The contract issue was resolved and the soundtrack moved forward, released a few days before the movie itself was released. Disney wasn’t sure fans would be interested in purchasing copies, but it turned out they had absolutely nothing to worry about. Even though they didn’t promote the soundtrack, according to Bryan, the CDs flew off store shelves and production had to be ramped up.

“It wasn’t really something – the channel had never released a soundtrack for any of its DCOMs because it had never done a musical before,” Bryan said. “They just took them out to see how it would go, and they flew off the shelf. So basically the chain was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ They just weren’t ready for it. They didn’t realize it would be such a big thing.

The album, which included songs like “Cheetah Sisters” and “Cinderella,” was subsequently certified platinum – twice. From there, Disney continued to test the waters to see how far a brand could be built from that first musical film. Houghton, Bryan and Williams have been invited to sing a cover of “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” as The Cheetah Girls for the network’s collaborative CD, “Disneymania 3”. Raven-Symoné, who was playing the lead role in Disney’s “That’s So Raven” at the time, was already on the project for a solo song.

The opportunities for the girl group and the franchise to grow kept coming after that. The girls filmed a special live DVD of them performing the cover at Disneyland and, after an overwhelming response from the crowd, they were asked to record a Christmas album.

“We were kind of becoming a real music band and we were like ‘OK’,” Bryan said. “So we made a Christmas album. And then they say to me, ‘This is so good. We want to go on a Christmas tour, are you guys interested? ‘ We said “OK” and took a Christmas tour. “

While she loved being on that first “Cheetah Girls” tour, it was not a smooth affair. It was the first time that Disney had really sent an act like this on the road because everything about “The Cheetah Girls” was a new experience for them. “So we had some issues,” Bryan said. “Parts of our set broke down on our tour. On the road to LA, our last rehearsal, at the first venue in Texas, [the set] legitimately broken while in the truck. We were all learning as we went.

Still, Williams shared that even though they had only been on tour for a few weeks and had issues, the “big answer [they got] really solidified the singing group, not just the musical.

It was later during this tour that the girls found out they would be making “The Cheetah Girls 2,” which ended up showing to 7.8 million total viewers when it was released on August 25, 2006. This film sequel has beaten the number of viewers. of the debut “High School Musical,” which released earlier that year to 7.7 million total viewers.

The success of the franchise continued to shape Disney’s DCOM plans, as well as its plans for “The Cheetah Girls,” in particular. With the second film came another tour for the now very real girl group. “And then that’s kind of how it was,” Bryan said. “They kept seeing the audience response and the fans’ need and desire and they kept asking us and we kept saying yes.”

“The Cheetah Girls” was an experiment for the Disney Channel, and it was a big success. This paved the way for the success that musical DCOMs are still accelerating now, 15 years later.


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