High School Musical 3 makes the grade
As conceived by Disney, the East High of the company’s mega-musical franchise bears little resemblance to any actual high school past or present, but that won’t stop its legions of fans from adoring “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” Part make believe and all state-of-the-art pop production, this third installment of the hugely popular series is the first to bow on the silver screen.
And “Senior Year” may be the best film of the bunch.
Kenny Ortega (“Newsies” and “Dirty Dancing”), Disney’s house choreographer-director, has constructed a song-and-dance bonanza. “Senior Year” is filled with a compliment of sharp, powerhouse pop melodies and show-stopping production numbers that start with a bang (the energetic ballgame opener “Now or Never”) and it never lets up.
All the central characters have returned, with hunky jock Troy (Zac Efron) and his sweetheart Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) facing the possibility of ending up at different colleges. She’s headed for Stanford, while he’s trying to decide whether to stay close to home and play ball or hold out for a possible music scholarship at Julliard. With the school “musicale” coming up and the prestigious arts school representatives sure to be in attendance, you know scheming diva Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) will have something up her sleeve, while her sweet and fashionably overdressed twin Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) will try to talk some sense into her.
Less dialogue this go ’round leaves little room for the charm of the first installment, but this also keeps the melodrama and the limited acting skills of the cast in check. There is plenty of opportunity for the glitzy and surprisingly diverse production numbers.
Whether borrowing from Astaire/Rodgers (as in the graceful rooftop waltz of “Can I Have This Dance?”), or Busby Berkeley (in Sharpay and Ryan’s rousing “I Want it All”), and even a little “Saturday Night Fever” nod (in “A Night to Remember”), “Senior Year” displays a colorful sense of nostalgia and a seemingly endless wellspring of creativity. (The latter being something sorely lacking in the recent “Mamma Mia” adaptation.)
To drive home the point, the film stages saves some of it’s best moments toward the end, with the junkyard hip-hop jam styles of “The Boys are Back” and Troy’s tour-de-force “Scream”-which rivals any boy band video for sheer angst-driven pop performance. (A sign of things to come from the planned “Footloose” remake?)
Regardless of whether Disney’s G-rated phenomenon is your cup of tea, you have to admire “High School Musical 3: Senior Year’s” boundless will to create fun, inspiring entertainment on a level second to none. The film industry certainly benefits from the release of quality films that celebrate life’s fringes with an “indie” spirit. But family friendly films with their own joyous, compulsively innocent pursuit of excellence have their place-just check the box office returns.
In that rarefied air, “Senior Year” is at the head of the class.