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November 29, 2008

Movie Review – High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

by HELEN GEIB

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

I made the acquaintance of Troy, Gabriella, and the rest of the gang of High School Musical this week. My young teen cousin took me to see High School Musical 3: Senior Year. She enjoyed it (it was her third viewing– she’s a big Zac Efron fan) and so did I. HSM3 is well-crafted popular entertainment for the family audience. Targeted to young teenagers and tweeners, it will also please older teens, young children, and the parents of all of the above.

I liked HSM3 well enough that I willingly assented to her declaration that we were watching High School Musical as soon as we got home. HSM is a delightful confection. I completely understand why it launched a cultural phenomenon: two sequels; touring stage show; healthy soundtrack sales; innumerable high school theater productions based on the original film; and innumerable Zac Efron internet fan sites.

Perhaps inevitably, HSM3 fails to recapture the magic of the film that started it all. The demands of fan expectations preclude the freshness and effervescence that contributed so much to the original. As an entry in a beloved series, it has an established formula to follow if it is to satisfy its devoted audience. Each performer’s rabid followers must be made happy, or at least thrown a bone. Equally important (at least to Disney) and the elephant in the room is the fact “High School Musical” is a valuable commodity to be carefully nurtured and exploited. The era of risk-taking ended when the first film became a hit.

Nevertheless, parents may approach (first and repeated viewings of) HSM3 with a light heart and brisk step. The film is both entertaining and a welcome alternative to the crass fare typically peddled to young people. A comedy that does not equate humor with bodily functions or humiliation and a romance that does not equate love with sex or humiliation, it offers positive images of teenagers in a story carried along by infectious pop tunes and lively dance numbers.

All of the actors return to reprise their characters. For the uninitiated, the main cast is: Troy (Efron), captain and star player of the basketball team and budding thespian; Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), the school’s academic star and Troy’s girlfriend and song and dance partner in the school’s theatrical productions; school diva Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale); choreographer, dance director, and Sharpay’s twin brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel); Troy’s bff Chad (Corbin Bleu); Gabriella’s bff Taylor (Monique Coleman); and school librettist Kelsi (Olesya Rulin). Although the musical numbers are distributed equally among the cast, the drama focuses squarely on Troy’s conflicted feelings about pursuing basketball or theater in college (of course, he chooses both) and in his efforts (of course, successful) to cement his relationship with Gabriella as they approach graduation. Next to Efron, whose charisma and ability justify his burgeoning stardom, I was most impressed by Grabeel’s comedic playing and Bleu’s dancing.

Lovers of movie musicals, a decidedly under-served audience, may take it from me that HSM3 is well worth seeing in the theater for its musical numbers. The music is catchy pop songs and the dancing by the youthful cast is energetic, always at least capable and often good. Perhaps because HSM3 is made for a young audience who hasn’t yet learned it is supposed to despise musicals as corny and unrealistic, the dance numbers are filmed and edited to actually showcase the dancing; the dancers are often shown in full figure and the editing rhythms are attuned to the varied tempos of the dances.

The choreography makes HSM3 a good entry level musical for people approaching the Hollywood musical. The film is a tour through the genre. The highlights: a rooftop garden duet danced by Troy and Gabriella that evokes the Astaire and Rogers films; a comic showmanship number danced by Sharpay, Ryan, and numerous background dancers that is a pastiche of Hollywood musical styles of different eras; and an ingenious and energetic number in an auto junkyard in which Troy and Chad reminisce through dance about childhood games of make-believe.

2 1/2 stars


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