Thursday 15 September 2011

I don't recall this much singing back in Upper Sixth

After the first two instalments in the High School Musical franchise, Disney executives have realised what the masses want: they want more of the same. Enter High School Musical 3: Senior Year, and with it not only the first instalment to be released in cinemas, but also another dose of singing, dancing, and sheer manic energy and good fun.

It’s senior year and Troy (Zac Efron) needs to figure out what the future has in store for him: will it be basketball or singing, and what are the prospects for his relationship with Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens)? As he and his friends, foes, and hangers-on at East High prepare for the musical at the end of the year (entitled, you’d never have guessed, ‘Senior Year’), they must learn about friendship, romance, and growing up.

Make no mistake: narratively High School Musical 3 is a mess. Sub-plots are forgotten halfway through, and the mighty machine-gods of Disney have to step in several times to force the story in the desired direction. Indeed the franchise has evidently reached the point where it begins cannibalising itself: the plot is essentially the same as that of the previous two films, and even some of the old musical numbers are brought in for a guest appearance.

Speaking of music: the singing and dancing are, of course, the heart and soul of any High School Musical, and the goods are definitely delivered here. The songs are catchy, if not always memorable, and the choreographies impress. Listen out, especially, for ‘The Boys are Back’, which sees Troy and Chad make creative use of a junkyard. The temptation to sing along is ever present, as even this (slightly) grumpy old student will admit.

The budget is clearly bigger this time, and director-choreographer Kenny Ortega makes good use of the amassed capital. The opening scene of the movie, a basketball match, is especially well-done; the producers are clearly aware of the opportunities the big screen gives them. Props are far grander than before, and this elevates songs that might otherwise drag on; crucially, virtually none of the musical numbers really outstay their welcome.

Ultimately the High School Musical franchise is the opium of the people, and proud of it. There is nothing wrong with that, and if you’re willing to awaken your inner child, the kids of East High will still leave you with a big grin on your face.

Note: this is an old review I originally wrote for a student publication in 2008, when the film came out. I was younger and just as foolish then.

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