October 24, 2008

High Musical 3: Senior Year

It's The Corny Collins Show

Grade: C

Director: Kenny Ortega

Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, and Corbin Bleu

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

I write any review of High School Musical 3: Senior Year keenly aware that the big-screen installment of the megawatt Disney Channel movie franchise is utterly critic-proof. The phenomenon flows from the same pop fount as Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, and The Cheetah Girls. But, its ancestry lies firmly in the cardigan karaoke of the 1950s, the Beach Party films of the 1960s, and Fame in the 1980s. In other words, it’s good clean fun, designed to tickle its target audience’s fancy, not its intellect. And, in the grand tradition of cinema, there is nothing wrong with that.

HSM3 is also a sterilized, synthetic depiction of adolescence lacking a scintilla of authenticity or spontaneity – even its junkyard resembles a Disney World theme park. And, its sugary blandness makes its original’s generic Romeo & Juliet motif look edgy by contrast. Shockingly little happens as Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), and the rest of the East High big six matriculate toward graduation and one last musical extravaganza. Oh, Troy and Gabriella cope with possible life apart, Troy tries to decide where to attend college, and four seniors – Troy, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), and bespectacled, virtually AWOL Kelsi (Olesya Rulin) – compete for a spot at Julliard. But, there is not a solitary moment of tension or intrigue throughout, even A Star is Born subplot involving Sharpay’s English understudy (Jemma McKenzie-Brown, one of three new cast members being groomed for the next generation of HSM).

Still, who watches High School Musical for the plot? Here, director Kenny Ortega’s choreography is suitably energetic if overproduced, but the musical numbers are unremarkable. Preteen girls might squirm with glee every time Troy and Gabby coo some teeny-bop ballad in a tree house or a rooftop garden. But, apart of the Evans siblings’ imaginative ode to excess, “I Want It All,” the rest of the soundtrack is replete with poppy retreads. In particular, the otherwise reliable Efron’s solo performance of “Scream” exudes faux-angst reminiscent of an ‘80s Corey Hart music video.

It is easy – and apposite – to poke fun at the HSM construct. But, for those with their head in the game, it is unbridled fun and one small way to escape reality’s challenges. Nowadays, that’s something we could all use.

Neil Morris

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