Saturday, November 1, 2008

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

For film critics, movies like High School Musical 3: Senior Year are tests of integrity. It would be all too easy to reach into an arsenal of witty phrases and shoot this movie down out of hand, but that would be on par with picking on a ten-year old. The only appropriate analysis of this film comes from comparing it to High School Musical and High School Musical 2. By that standard, HSM 3 achieves what very few sequels with high expectations have done in recent years: it never disappoints. The cast and crew behind the High School Musical phenomenon saved the best for last.

If you’re in the minority of those unfamiliar with this franchise, Disney’s High School Musical films have been worldwide pop-culture sensations. The first two premiered on the Disney channel, and this third installment marks the series’ theatrical debut. The HSM movies focus on high school sweethearts Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens), two students from different social circles who show the students of East High School how to embrace their differences and learn from each other. In High School Musical 3, they face all of the typical senior year challenges: choosing colleges, choosing dates for Prom, letting go, and saying goodbye.

All three films are musicals about musicals; even as music moves the stories along, the characters themselves are preparing to perform their own high school drama productions. Even after two films’ worth of self-discovery, basketball superstar Troy is still having trouble embracing his theatrical side. Gabriella does all she can to help him branch out and be true to himself, but she has her own dilemma. When Stanford University asks her to enroll early (and thus miss the musical performance), she suddenly has to choose between her future and her friends.

I wasn’t sure if a theatrical installment of High School Musical would work, but the filmmakers struck the right balance: production quality has been appropriately scaled up for the big screen, but not so much that it loses the essence of its predecessors. The musical numbers are as energetic and catchy as ever, and the delightful cheesiness returns in full force. It’s a movie for the fans, and I can’t imagine any fan being disappointed. Director Kenny Ortega could write the How-To Guide for giving the people what they want. At various intervals, the audience cheered, laughed, audibly swooned over Troy, and burst into applause.

The original High School Musical has been correctly referred to by many as “this generation’s Grease,” though it’s actually much more wholesome than Grease. You won’t see any cigarettes or provocative outfits, because all it takes to be cool at East High is to be yourself. High School Musical presents high school as it should be: a fun, healthy environment where students build each other up. I’m surprised and pleased in equal measures that something so decent and morally centered has become so popular.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year has been billed as the final installment, and it should be, though Disney has proven that they have no idea when to stop, as nearly every Disney classic has been given at least one mediocre straight-to-video sequel. I hope everyone involved here has the good sense to just walk away and leave a solid ending alone. Cultural events like High School Musical don’t come around all that often, but as one generation of fans raises another, they live on. HSM 3 ends with an on-screen curtain call as the characters sing, “Step into the future, but hold onto High School Musical.” It sure seemed like the actors were genuinely singing those words, too.

Click here to view the trailer

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: G

There’s nothing in the way of objectionable content; my only advice would be to show your kids the first two (if they’ve somehow survived childhood without seeing them) before taking them to see the third.

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