High School Musical 1 and 3 (2006-2008) dir. Kenny Ortega
Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu
For filmmakers, cinephiles, critics, etc I think it’s important, however much a struggle, to examine a phenomenon like “High School Musical”. Because of the new Blu-Ray editions of Part 1 and Part 3 this chance presented itself to me.
Last year “High School Musical 2” was released on DVD and within days became the highest selling TV movie of all time. I had never even heard of “High School Musical” until these records were announced. Did I miss something? Most certainly. Through the Disney brand machine and venerable star system they manufactured mondo cash through an age-old Hollywood concept – ‘the musical’ but made for television.
Of course these films are absolutely critic-proof, so most of everything I write is mute, but there are some talented actors who will graduate from the Disney school and make films you and I will likely see. So having this stuff on record is not futile.
The franchise opens up introducing the two central characters: Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) a star basketball player and Gabrielle Montez a lovely straight-A newbie. Over the holiday break they meet at a Karaoke contest on a resort vacation with their parents and develop an instant attraction. When they return Troy discovers Gabrielle has just transfered to his school. They rekindle their brief friendship which naturally and easily blossoms into full ‘going-steady’ mode.
Neither student have a desire for the arts, especially singing and dancing, but that magical Karaoke moment has stuck in the heads. When the tryouts for the new school play are announced, with mutual trepidation, they decide to take the plunge. Fearing backlash from their respective cliques they both keep it quiet. When their talent threatens the resident bitchy blonde, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale), the conniving cat claws come out and it’s all out war. Meanwhile the play proves a distraction for the basketball team, which Troy must reconcile in order to accomplish his dreams. That's the first film. The third follows the same template, except with a prom and the college conundrum adding more conflict.
"High School Musical" has a kind of energy that is hard to ignore. Director Kenny Ortega slaps on the high school clichés and syrupy soap operatics for the tweeners, which has as much engaging and believable drama as an episode of "Degrassi the Next Generation". But within the musical genre we accept it all as part of the fantasy world.
The series wouldn’t have survived if not for the strong and extremely likeable cast. Since the tweeners would likely scream the lights out for just about any reasonable attractive face, it’s often difficult to find a fine performances as such. Zac Efron has clear starpower, not just as a singer and dancer, but his ability to command the screen. The other star is Ashley Tisdale, the bitch-queen – a role not all that difficult to play, but Tisdale plays the ego-driven Sharpay with enough vulnerability to create a third dimension to the stock character.
Surprisingly, the least entertaining aspect of the series are it’s musical sequences. The songs in particular are tier-2 forgettable pop tunes at best and never really got my feet tapping. Even the big screen third entry in the series doesn’t come close to touching it’s main influence “Grease”.
The new release DVD and Blu-Ray of the HSM 3 will help Disney overcome ‘these troubled economic times’, and the new ‘Remix version’ of the original film will mean just more black ink for that title.