Something sinister is going on over at the House of Mouse. Scientists should study Disney to see how they manage to make huge pop culture phenomena out of the slightest of entertainment material. Recently, they manufactured marketing gold out of an ex-country one-hit-wonder's questionably talented daughter. Now, they're poised to add to their parent-plumped and tween-topped coffers by bringing their unfathomably successful High School Musical franchise to the big screen. Oddly enough, it's actually not that bad... as wholesome, wholly unoriginal spectacle goes.
After winning the state basketball championship, East High senior Troy (Zac Efron) realizes that, in a few short months, he'll be separated from his sweetheart Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens). Meanwhile, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) threatens to stage a one woman show for the upcoming spring musical, so composer Kelsi (Olesya Rulin) gets most of the class to join up. Drama teacher Ms. Darbus (Alyson Reed) also has some amazing news -- Troy, Kelsi, Sharpay, and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) are all being evaluated for a scholarship to Julliard. Then Gabriella gets an offer to go to college early, which further threatens the lovebirds' relationship. Troy's dad balks at the thought of him giving up sports for performing. Naturally, all will be revealed and resolved during the big, brassy production at the end.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year is nothing more than cinematic spun sugar, a warm and snuggly cinnamon bun accented with tried and true pixie stick production numbers. It's Andy Hardy collapsed into a G-rated version of the Ambercrombie and Fitch clothing catalog, all bright, empty, and oh so post-modern Tiger Beat. It's about as deep as an adolescent's grasp of the real world and twice as scary. And yet when you see effervescent stars like Efron and Hudgens make like Rooney and Garland, you can't help but get swept up in their earnest saccharine energy. Only the crankiest of curmudgeons would argue against its effectiveness.
Of course, this doesn't mean it's perfect filmmaking, or capable of being compared to the classic toe-tappers of Hollywood's Golden era. But when juxtaposed against the jury-rigged jukebox efforts which pass for contemporary Big Apple attractions, it's light and fluffy fun. Besides, director Kenny Ortega, who cut his teeth turning plaintive pop songs into inspired music videos for the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson, has a real knack for capturing dance on film. He understands the need for concrete camera movement, and tries to avoid as many of his previous MTV poses as possible. Thanks to the continued involvement of writer Peter Barsocchini (who alongside Ortega, has guided all three HSM efforts), there is a wonderful consistency that keeps the characters involved and alive.
But let's face it -- this isn't rocket science. Heck, it's not even driver's ed. Creeping beneath the surface of goodwill and good times is an undeniable stench of exploitation -- not of the cast, mind you, but the demographic. Disney isn't dumb. They've micromanaged this project down to factor in every possible profit margin. The fans get more (much more) of what they love, the uninitiated will come away feeling like fools for not being on board from the beginning. The adults may whine and moan, but there's no denying the inherent allure of well-done show biz polish. And we even get the mandatory set-up for High School Musical 4 (don't let the finality of the Senior Year subtitle fool you).
While Uncle Walt might pale at where his once formidable animation studio stands, he couldn't possibly complain about all the cash. High School Musical 3: Senior Year may seem like yet another example of milking an already flush franchise, but when it goes down as easily as this, who really cares?
And on to Yale.