Troy, Gabriella, Ryan, Sharpay, Kelsi, Taylor, and Chad get to graduate on the big screen in the latest installment of the popular Disney television movie series. An incredibly positive, even Utopian, New Mexico high school is the setting for a one hour and 52 minute story where everything is immaculately staged and colorful except maybe for Ryan’s truck. Screenwriter Peter Barsocchini sets up the vibrant and immaculately clean scene sequences while musical veteran director Kenny Ortega orchestrates them.
From the basketball beginning to exterior graduation ceremony complete with “roller coaster” dance choreography, the high-end production comes through, as well as some high quality songs. Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens again headline as the school’s famous romantic couple Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez. “Kids we used to pass in the hall are now friends,” says Troy as the couple’s popularity soars to new highs. This couple has a real emotional attachment with the audience while harmonizing well in the music sequences, especially during a rooftop dance number soaked in sunshine, as most of the exterior scenes are. Rising star Efron shines in decent dance numbers including a “pressure rock” song with rotating settings inside the school. Look for collaboration between Efron and Ortega in the Footloosemusical update in 2010.
Living Barbie doll stereotype Sharpay Evans, played by Ashley Tisdale, and her twin brother Ryan, played by Lucas Brabell, get a grand musical number where they fantasize about their future dreams. This time the tame confrontations include Sharpay outing Vanessa’s deep dark secret of… advanced academic honors (gasp). “The only thing holding her back would be you,” Sharpay says to Troy.
Corbin Bleu plays Troy’s best friend Chad and Monique Coleman plays academic student Taylor. Chad gives Ryan honest advice about his emotional swings (“when you do a show you become five people”) and his relationship with Gabriella (“she’s one step ahead as usual and you have to snap out of it”). Troy and Chad share a syncopated number at a salvage yard where they relive eight-year-old play days with rolling tires and echoes of Michael Jackson.
Olesya Rulin and Martha Cox solidify the largely female cast as Kelsi Nielsen, the talented songwriter/student, and KayCee Strok, energetic cheerleader, respectively. Three new characters, Jimmy Z, Donny, and British Tiara also join the familiar cast. Matt Prokop and Justin Martin benefit from Troy’s leadership on and off the court while Jemma McKenzie-Brown swoops in to volunteer as Sharpay’s personal assistant.
This trio doesn’t really make a high impact, but has time to grow as Disney passes the baton for a future High School Musical 4 to be released next year back on the Disney Channel. Maybe this sophomore class will graduate on the big screen in High School Musical 6. Television veteran Alyson Reed plays Ms. Darbus, the drama teacher who literally sits on a throne — wow, what if all teachers got that notoriety?
In this installment, a Julliard scholarship and future college plans all stir a pot of excitement and predictable teen angst reducing the dialogue quality to bits like “I want my future to be my future” and “want my own dream so bad I am gonna scream”. The overall effect produces a fantasy, but a desirable one. Seniors making their future plan announcements at a musical attended by the entire school would be a refreshing celebration in real life. An important decision could be shared with everyone who helped shape their lives. Not all high schools are that close-knit for sure, but wouldn’t it be great?
Recommended with reservations (**1/2 out of four stars) and rated G, though it contains some gawking, sexual innuendo (e.g. “gentlemen, start your engines”) and affectionate touching.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler