TL;DR – Much more serviceable than I was expecting, but with some very odd narrative and production choices that hold it back
Post-Credit Scene – There is an end credit scene
Disclosure – I paid for the Disney+ subscription that viewed this movie.
High School Musical Review –
When it comes to cinema, we all have our blind spots. Whether that is films, we just have not been able to see or films that we presumed to be not great and never gave a chance. For me, one of those films is the one we will explore today. When it first came out, I was a touch older than the demographic it was looking at, while I also ran youth events for people who were 100% its target demographic, which gave me a very skewered view of the film. But now that I am older and wiser, it is time to take a look back and explore the film on its own merits.
So to set the scene, it is New Year’s Eve at a ski lodge, and while Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) would rather be playing basketball and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) would rather be reading a book, their parents independently suggest that they go to the young people’s party. They had never met before, but that did not stop them from getting lumped together in a surprise karaoke duet. While they exchanged numbers, they never saw each other again until on the first day back at East High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Troy discovers that Gabriella has transferred to his school and that there is a new musical about to audition.
When you first watch the film, there is a lot that you need to pass, because it is very much a product of its time. You see that in the hair, the plot devices, and the musical stylings. Given it is a production of its time, there are parts of it that have aged quite well and those parts that have not indeed. But let us focus on the factors that did work. From a narrative perspective, this is a tightly managed film, with very few scenes that just felt like filler. There is some tonal whiplash in how quickly the teenagers decide on a plan and then do a hard 180-degree turn away from it. But then that also feels accurate for what teenagers can be like at times. As well as this, the cinematography and editing support the show’s musical elements, which given the short filming window, is extraordinary.
When it comes to our cast of characters, I think, on the whole, they were written to be very surface level, but that did give the actors some scope to work with. Zac and Vanessa had the most to do in pushing the narrative; they did a good job on that front. The supporting cast is also fine though the parents/teachers very much suffer from the one-dimensional nature of the characterisation. Also, I am not sure if this is in the script or just how they played it on the day, but the bond between brother and sister Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) is … well, let’s just call this odd and admire Ryan’s hat collection and speak no more about it.
As this is a musical, let’s talk about the music, and to be honest, it is a bit of a mixed bag. The weakest elements of the music were the songs written for the musical, which are oddly pitched and notated. It is also odd that they didn’t adapt the songs to Zac’s singing register then using a singing double in such a way that you can clearly tell it is a double. However, the film excels when they get to the big group numbers. The highlight was probably the big number about how everyone is more than just the one thing their click is known for, which besides being a good song, is also a good message.
The aspects of this film that have not aged well mostly come from several narrative concepts that the film does not explore well enough. There are whole layers of toxic masculinity here, especially with Troy’s dad Jack (Bart Johnson). He is trying to relive his youth through his son in all the worst ways. The film gives lip service to this while never properly resolving it. It also feels deeply disingenuous to be prattling along about college scholarships when you live in a big mansion that can fit your own basketball court in the back. It is moments like this that just rip you out of the film. Also, for a film titled High School Musical we don’t actually get to see a High School Musical, but I gave Mortal Kombat a pass for something similar, so I think I will have to do so here too.
In the end, do we recommend High School Musical? Well, look. I think overall, I did find it entertaining, but more in the way it captures a moment in time, and probably not for the general content and music. If you liked High School Music, I would recommend to you In the Heights.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of High School Musical
Directed by – Kenny Ortega
Written by – Peter Barsocchini
Music by – David Lawrence
Cinematography by – Gordon Lonsdale
Edited by – Seth Flaum
Production/Distribution Companies – Salty Pictures, First Street Films, Buena Vista Television, Disney Channel & Disney+
Starring – Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Joey Miyashima, Bart Johnson, Olesya Rulin, Chris Warren Jr., Ryne Sanborn, Kaycee Stroh, Alyson Reed, Irene Santiago-Baron, Socorro Herrera, Leslie Wing Pomeroy, Joyce Cohen, Dave Fox, Anne Kathryn Parma, Nick Whitaker & Falcon Grace
Rating – Australia: G; Canada: na; Germany: 0; New Zealand: G; United Kingdom: U; United States: G