Since its heyday, High School Musical has nearly gained the infamy of the Star Wars prequels for supposedly being such awful, overrated fluff. Yet I love it. Disney Channel original movies are hardly masterpieces and, except for The Color of Friendship and The Thirteenth Year, are not usually worth re-watching. However, High School Musical indeed became a phenomenon, one that I followed intently. I was surprised by the first film in 2006, convinced my parents and VC to view it as well (they love it too), watched the sequel’s even more successful debut the next year, and then paid to see High School Musical 3: Senior Year at the theater. One could call them guilty pleasures, but I’m not ashamed in the least. I grew up with these characters and, regardless of flaws, enjoy the films to this day.
The first High School Musical has the worst reputation, with karaoke, high school clichés (distinct cliques, evil blond diva, etc.), and other rather cheesy elements onto which haters latch. (On thetoptens.com, a website of public-voted top ten lists, it ranks as the #2 worst film, behind Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.) Yet I never watched High School Musical expecting Oscar-worthy performances or a deep, original plot; I love it for the music. It’s hip, catchy, progresses the story (usually), and made drama and musicals cool for a new generation.
High School Musical 2 is my favorite of the three, possessing some of the most memorable songs and the funniest script. With the return of the same young actors, it also succeeded in establishing them all as lovable characters of my childhood. Perhaps it was simply from seeing them repeatedly, but I came to care for Troy and Gabriella (Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens), Chad and Taylor (Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman), Ryan and Kelsi (Lucas Grabeel and Olesya Rulin), and even sneaky Sharpay (Phineas and Ferb’s Ashley Tisdale). By the time the third film came out, I was nearing the same fears of the future they were and could actively sympathize with Troy’s uncertainty. Senior Year added some needed depth, even to minor characters, and ended with long shots of the six main characters simply smiling at the camera. I thought this unnecessary at the time, but as they’ve all moved on and “grown up” in different ways, I see now that those scenes (and the entire movies) act as snapshots of these actors at this early time in their lives, like a graduation photo, if you will. The bittersweet end has touched my inner teenager on subsequent viewings.
As for the music, all three films have some commonalities in their songs. Each has at least one romantic duet with Troy and Gabriella:-the first film’s “Start of Something New,” -the second film’s “You Are the Music in Me” (the best), and -the third film’s “Right Here, Right Now” and “Can I Have This Dance;”
a well-choreographed, rap-inflected number:-the first film’s “Get’cha Head in the Game” (the best), -the second’s “I Don’t Dance,” and -the third’s “The Boys Are Back;”
a slow, emotional solo for Vanessa Hudgens:-the first film’s “When There Was Me and You,” -the second’s “Gotta Go My Own Way” (tie), and -the third’s “Walk Away” (tie);
a show-stopping hit midway through:-the first film’s “Stick to the Status Quo” (tie), -the second’s “Work This Out” (tie), and -the third’s “A Night to Remember;”
a catchy, over-the-top number for Sharpay, which I actually enjoy more than Troy and Gabriella’s:-the first film’s “Bop to the Top,” -the second’s “Fabulous,” and -the third’s “I Want It All” (the best);
and a rousing finale that wraps everything up with a smile-worthy bow:-the first film’s “We’re All in This Together” (three-way tie; all too good to choose), -the second’s “All for One” (bursting with summer’s joie de vivre and my VC’s favorite), and -the third’s “High School Musical” (three-way tie).
Critics can decry the unsophisticated dialogue and hackneyed plot elements, but High School Musical is something that everyone involved can be proud of. Director and choreographer Kenny Ortega did an outstanding job across the board. The choreography is excellent throughout (with the laughable exception of the second film’s “Bet On It”), and it’s obvious that much work and practice went into creating the elaborate dance scenes. Unfortunately, Disney Channel has yet to reclaim the spirit of these musicals, though they’ve tried with the unmemorable Camp Rock and Teen Beach Movie.
Another reason I love these films is for their ingenuous purity. Though I like some of the music in it, Grease did not make my list; High School Musical may borrow elements from that film, but it exceeds it in good, clean entertainment value. The world of East High is indeed squeaky clean and idealized, but that’s simply the kind of world I prefer, a world in which a boy can sneak up to his girlfriend’s bedroom without a hint of impropriety, in contrast to the “realistic” world of sex and drugs that other high school films depict. It’s always easier to criticize than to create, and for all its imperfections, I will continue to assert that the High School Musical films are a credit to their genre.
Best lines: Refer to best songs aboveRank: 55 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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