Disney once had plans for High School Musical 4, has the film now been replaced by a Disney+ TV series? Debuting as a Disney Channel exclusive back in 2006, High School Musical surpassed all expectations for a direct-to-TV movie and became an international phenomenon that launched the careers of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Mixing teenage drama with a diverse selection of catchy songs and expert choreography from Kenny Ortega, High School Musical scored a second successful TV movie, launching the 2008 third installment towards a theatrical release for the first time.
High School Musical 3 ended with an uplifting graduation, as Troy, Gabriella and the rest ventured out into the big, bad world of college, but the franchise's future looked assured. High School Musical 3 introduced new characters such as Rocket Man, Tiara Gold and Donnie, a trio that appeared to be genesis of a brand new generation of all-singing, all-dancing pupils. Despite constant reports of a fourth movie, however, these freshman faces were never seen again. Indeed, the first announcement of a High School Musical 4 came almost immediately after the third film proved so successful, but the notion fizzled out. In early 2016, Disney officially announced High School Musical 4 was in production and casting finally underway but, once again, nothing has been heard since.
The big issue with a fourth High School Musical movie is the absence of the original cast and the lack of Ortega as a driving creative force. The familiar group have all left East High behind and even if some of the originals could be convinced to return, Efron and Hudgens were very clearly moving onto pastures new. High School Musical 4 was already mooted as a step back to the franchise's Disney Channel original roots, and the daunting prospect of rebooting the class was a risky move that Disney evidently had considerable reservations about.
While the lack of key cast members might've caused High School Musical 4's delay, the advent of Disney+ has almost certainly sealed the sequel's fate. Since the fourth movie began casting in 2016/2017 and Disney+'s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series was first announced in November 2017, it seems very likely that plans for High School Musical 4 were directly adapted into a TV series format at some stage during the film's pre-production.
Disney's designs for a purpose built streaming service were first revealed in August 2017, when the studio acquired a controlling stake in the BAMTech streaming technology company and, tellingly, this comes directly in between High School Musical 4's announcement and Disney's confirmation of the upcoming HSM TV series. In mid-to-late 2017, Disney would've been picking out properties to use for original content and, in this sense, High School Musical is an ideal candidate, since the risks involved with a feature-length sequel aren't as prevalent with an in-house streamed TV show. High School Musical remains a strong enough brand to bring in subscribers, but there's less expectation for the original cast to appear than there would've been for a straight movie sequel.
Depending on the success of the TV show, High School Musical 4 remains a possibility for the future, but may now be reserved as a reunion story that catches up with the classic cast in their adult years, while the new adventures of actual high school-aged performers are reserved for Disney+.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premieres November 12th on Disney+.