High School Musical
: The Disney Channel original movie High School Musical
is a combination of backstage action and Grease
without the unwholesome habits. It's a smash hit with tween audiences (ages 6 to 10), but appealing for all ages. At a New Year's Eve party, Troy (Zac Efron) has a chance meeting with Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) when they share a karaoke song. Lo and behold, when school resumes, they discover that Gabriella has just transferred to Troy's East High School, a campus divided into tight cliques of jocks, cheerleaders, brainiacs and skater dudes. Eager to recapture the magic they'd discovered during karaoke, Troy and Gabriella consider auditioning for the school's upcoming musical, much to the dismay of the school's frost queen/theatre goddess, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale). Problem is, Troy is also the star of the basketball team and Gabrielle is being recruited to compete in the Scholastic Decathlon. Will they give up their cliques to start something new, or will they do as the show's first big anthem urges and "Stick to the Status Quo"? Well, this is a Disney movie, so maybe the sacrifices won't be that hard, and even the hints of romance are mild.
The bestselling soundtrack is catchy in that Disney-pop kind of way, mixing in a dash of hip-hop ("Getcha Head in the Game" is punctuated by squeaky basketball shoes and other sound effects), salsa ("Bop to the Top"), and the endearingly hammy ("What I've Been Looking For" performed by Sharpay and her brother, Ryan, played by Lucas Grabeel). It's not hard to imagine High School Musical becoming a semi-staple for high school groups to perform themselves. --David Horiuchi High School Musical 2
: What time is it? Time for High School Musical 2, the sequel to the Disney Channel smash. School is out, and Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) are looking forward to a summer to remember, but Troy also needs to earn money so he can go to college. As it turns out, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), the self-proclaimed primo girl of East High, has her eye set on primo-boy Troy, and gets him a job at the country club her parents own. It looks great for Troy when Gabriella and the rest of the Wildcats are hired also, but when he gets preferential treatment from the club manager (Mark Taylor) and others, it puts all of his relationships in hot water.
Everyone's back from the original movie, including Zac's buddy Chad (Corbin Bleu), Sharpay's brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), and Gabriella's friend Taylor (Monique Coleman). And the songs on the hit soundtrack often parallel the originals and are just as catchy: the Troy-Gabriella duet ("You Are the Music in Me," which is later Sharpay-ized into a rock version), the sports-flavored hip-hop number ("I Don't Dance" but this time on the baseball diamond instead of the basketball court), the Gabriella lament ("Gotta Go My Own Way"), the climactic stage duet ("Everyday"), and the mass-ensemble closer ("All for One"). But the sequel doesn't just stick to the status quo. Other songs include a flashy opener ("What Time Is It"), Sharpay's poolside feature ("Fabulous"), a percussive ensemble number ("Work This Out"), and Zac's solo ("Bet On It"), and the dances are even bigger this time around, relentlessly high-energy and often spectacular. In addition, the "let's put on a show" angle is only a subplot and the romance is now front and center--which means High School Musical has lost a bit of its innocence. But it's still wholesome viewing for tweens of all ages. --David Horiuchi High School Musical 3
: Senior Year
: The third film in Disney's record-smashing series was the first to debut in cinemas rather than on the Disney Channel, and while many of the elements are the same, the film is at times bigger to accommodate the big screen. All the usual characters are back, but not for long: it's senior year, and the classmates are all facing the prospect of leaving East High in separate directions. Troy (Zac Efron) is ready to play hoops at the University of Albuquerque with best friend Chad (Corbin Bleu), but doesn't want to be a thousand miles away from Stanford-bound Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens). Taylor (Monique Coleman) is headed to Yale, while Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), and the school's pianist-composer Kelsi (Olesya Rulin) are all in the running for a single scholarship to Juilliard. The showcase for them will be Ms. Darbus' new musical, Senior Year, which will recap the academic careers of the students themselves. (So if the original HSM was a retelling of Grease
, HSM3 is more A Chorus Line
). There are a few new characters: Sharpay's personal assistant Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Brown), and Troy's hangers-on, Rocket Man (Matt Prokop) and Donny Dion (Justin Martin), who may give the franchise life beyond its original cast (if they make some headway in the likability department). But it's all about the songs and the dances. Ryan and Sharpay sizzle in a classic-musical tribute "I Want It All"; Troy and Gabriella share a rooftop waltz in "Can I Have This Dance"; and Troy and Chad blow off steam in a salvage yard in "The Boys Are Back". "Now or Never" is this film's "sports song", and Troy and Gabriella have their big duet "Just Wanna Be With You" and their own showcases, in "Scream" and "Walk Away", respectively. If the closing anthem, "High School Musical", seems on the self-congratulatory side, it's a rare misstep in a series that has made a generation of tweens (especially girls) sing and dance and realise they can be whatever they want to be. --David Horiuchi