Hannah Montana Inc.
Move over, Tinker Bell. Disney's latest star is fast becoming a brand of her own.
(FORTUNE Magazine) -- For more than half a century the fairy from Peter Pan has been a signature Disney character. Lately, though, she's been sharing the spotlight with a newcomer to the Magic Kingdom: Hannah Montana.
Since its March debut, the Disney Channel series hasn't just been a huge hit with kids and 'tweens; it's become a ubiquitous franchise. That isn't anything new for the media empire responsible in recent years for the "Lizzie McGuire" show, "That's So Raven," and "High School Musical." But Disney raised the decibel level with Hannah.
So your kids watch the show. You probably bought them the Hannah Montana soundtrack that entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1, to say nothing of the show's merchandise, spanning greeting cards, iPod accessories, and karaoke machines. Soon your children will also be able to hang out with their friends in Hannah's virtual world. It will be part of a Disney.com redesign intended to help the company compete with faster-growing kids' Web sites, such as those of Viacom's (Charts) Nickelodeon family.
"Hannah Montana is really an in-the-zeitgeist kind of thing," says Paul Yanover, executive vice president of Disney Online.
Of course, the show never would have succeeded without its bubbly star, 14-year-old Miley Cyrus, daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, best known for his top 40 hit "Achy Breaky Heart." Miley Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, a seemingly normal kid at Seaview Middle School who, unbeknownst to her classmates, is also Hannah Montana, a rock star not unlike Hilary Duff, who made her name as Lizzie McGuire.
Billy Ray plays her dad, giving the series a reality-show twist. Says Rich Ross, Disney Channel Worldwide president: "It's art imitating life imitating art."
The result is a thoroughly modern sitcom with an age-old Disney (Charts) message: It's great to be a star, but it's more important to be a regular kid. No wonder Hannah is fitting in just fine with Tinker Bell.
Four our interview with Miley Cyrus, Fortune brought in an expert - Faith Leonard, the writer's 11-year-old daughter - to ask some of the questions. Here's that interview.
Some say the character you play on Hannah Montana is as important to the company right now as Pirates of the Caribbean's Captain Jack Sparrow. How does that feel?
That's awesome! I haven't heard that. Disney's awesome. We're all a big family here. We're always hanging out with stars from other shows.
Have you met any of the head honchos at Disney, such as CEO Bob Iger?
Yeah, they're really cool. You appreciate that because when you go into the Disney Channel building - where you audition - you're like a nervous wreck.
Why do you think Hannah Montana is so popular around the world?
I think everybody has a goal or a dream, and just showing an average girl having her dream come true and still being able to balance her friends and her school is something they relate to. She's this big Hilary Duff-type celebrity, but that's as important on the show as her homework and her family and friends.
Wouldn't it be easier for Miley Stewart to be Hannah all the time?
I think she definitely likes being able to chill with her friends and her family and have a normal life. Personally, I wouldn't want to be Hannah all the time. That wig is really itchy!
Any thoughts on where you're going to be in five years? Do you worry about turning out like Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears?*
That has definitely crossed my mind. I definitely don't want that to happen. But I really have a good family and good friends who are going to keep that from happening.
Is it easier to do the show with your real dad playing the role of your dad?*
It helps a lot. If he wasn't there, it probably wouldn't be what it is. The chemistry between us is really cool.
What do you think of the song "Achy Breaky Heart"?
Oh, my gosh! We listened to that song so much when we were younger, we don't even listen to it anymore.
*These questions were asked by Faith Leonard.