Is This New DCOM The Next High School Musical? Let Meg Donnelly Explain

Photo: Courtesy of Disney Channel/Bob D’Amico.
Once upon a time, Disney Channel Original Movies reigned supreme. Zenon. Smart House. Cheetah Girls. High. School. Freakin’. Musical. Since those heady days of Disney Channel YA flick supremacy, the network’s power has waned despite valiant efforts from the likes of Descendants, Teen Beach Movie, and both of their respective sequels.
Now, upcoming DCOM cannon addition Zombies, premiering Friday, February 16, aims to remind us of how great House Of (Teen) Mouse movies can be. The song-and-dance-powered film is set in the candy-colored town of Seabrook, 50 years after the zombiepocalypse. Yet all is well in the human neighborhood since the undead are forced to live in the dilapidated community of Zombietown.
When we enter Zombies, it’s the first year the titular creatures are allowed to go to human high school, “which is crazy,” as star Meg Donnelly told Refinery29. Donnelly plays female lead Addison, a cheerleading hopeful and human who befriends Zed (Milo Manheim), a charming zombie who hopes to become a football player. Unsurprisingly, Zed’s dreams are a major no-no in the status-and-heartbeat obsessed Seabrook.
So, a DCOM filled with original songs and lead by a teenage boy desperate to become something society tells him is impossible? We can’t be the only ones picking up HSM vibes. To figure out just how similar Zombies and the Disney classic are, we called Meg Donnelly.
Keep reading to see what she said about the comparisons, Zombies' "whoa-worthy" message, and what’s next.
Refinery29: Zombies kind of feels one of the old Disney Channel musicals of yore. Do you feel that way?
Meg Donnelly: "Yeah! The music is definitely different. It’s has songs you would hear on the radio almost. It’s not like a musical-musical, which I think is really cool."
And how was doing all the choreography and recording for that?
"We had four weeks of rehearsal and six weeks of shooting. So we had four weeks to do the four dance numbers during rehearsal. While we were dancing they would pull us out of rehearsal and record the songs. While we were filming, it was our voices on the track, but they would blast it over the loudspeakers and we would sing along to it.
"If you just lip sync, it doesn't look like you’re singing. So they had to make that part look real. That was really challenging to remember the words and act and sing and dance all at the same time."
You were doing triple duty, basically?
"Oh, yes."
Did you rewatch any Disney Channel Original Movies to prepare?
"I didn’t have to rewatch. I mean I watch High School Musical every day anyway, so it’s fine [laughs]. But I have been dreaming of being in a Disney Channel Original Movie since I was like 5. So the fact this is happening is completely surreal. I definitely channeled my inner Gabriella Montez."
Speaking of High School Musical's Gabriella, did you have a favorite DCOM? Is it HSM?
"It was definitely High School Musical, and also Cheetah Girls. I was obsessed. Especially Cheetah Girls 2. I watched those videos everyday. It’s so iconic."
Do you see any similarities between Zombies and your two favorites?
"It is a musical, but the storyline is definitely different from anything they’ve done. Also, there’s an underlying message in the movie. I feel like in High School Musical and the other movies, there’s a message, but it’s not as noticeable as the one in Zombies. The overarching message is accepting others for who they are, based on who they are and not what they look like. And accepting yourself, like what makes you unique is what you should embrace.
"When you watch Zombies, you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s very prominent. That’s definitely different from the other movies."
Do you think that anti-bullying stance resonates more than usual right now?
"Definitely, I think so. It’s also the first year of high school, so just going to high school for the first time can be pretty wild. So it’s definitely about staying true to yourself and not just going with whatever is popular.
"Social media makes things very hard. When you look at it, you’re always comparing yourself to other people and you’re trying to be perfect. But you know what’s perfect for you, and you just should embrace that. You shouldn’t try to be someone else."
And so many of the previous DCOM stars, like Zac Efron, have gone on to such huge things. Do you want to emulate any of those careers?
"I would love to, that would be crazy. Just doing this right now is crazy, but having a future like that — I would be so lucky."
This interview has been edited for style and length.
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