High School Musical 2, 2007.
Directed by Kenny Ortega.
Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel and Corbin Bleu.
It’s summer vacation for the Wildcats at East High School, but with the pressures of summer jobs weighing down on them will they be able to work it out?
I'll be the first to admit that I unexpectedly thoroughly enjoyed High School Musical, and so I was cautiously optimistic for High School Musical 2. One of the main appeals of the original was the American high school setting, and although it's a squeaky-clean depiction I'm still fascinated by it. This sequel quickly moves the action away from school after the opening song 'What Time Is It' where the returning characters all celebrate summer vacation arriving. In order to keep everyone together singing and dancing for the movie, they all acquire jobs at the country club Lava Springs - and it just so happens the club holds a talent contest.
Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) are in a relationship following the events of the first movie and are looking forward to spending the summer together. However, the pressures of adulthood are weighing heavily on their minds - both agree to jobs at Lava Springs to earn some money and Troy is constantly reminded by his father to pursue a college scholarship. These themes of responsibility and growing up are surprisingly progressive considering the whimsical nature of High School Musical, but the majority of the characters act in a mature manner that really helps sell the plot.
Of course, the one character to relish in immaturity is the boo-hiss villain Sharpay Evans (a fantastic Ashley Tisdale). Humiliated that the school production was taken over by Troy and Gabriella, Sharpay vows to enjoy summer whilst trying to win Troy's affections. Her parents own the Lava Springs country club and she has orchestrated Troy getting a job there, but little does she know that he has also managed to get his friends work there too.
High School Musical 2 is a mixed bag - some of the songs are utterly fantastic, particularly 'Work This Out' and 'I Don't Dance' - which sees two secondary characters, Troy's best friend Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu) and Sharpay's brother Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel), form an unlikely alliance via a brilliant song and dance number. Unfortunately, there are also some bizarre inclusions that don't quite work, with 'Humuhumunukunukuapua'a' being the main offender and Troy's solo 'Bet On It' helping propel the character and story forward but not being very memorable or fun in the process.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this sequel is how much the acting has improved. Zac Efron is given an actual character arc which he handles rather well, and Vanessa Hudgens is employed as a lifeguard which gives her plenty of opportunity to swan around in a swimsuit - which I certainly won't complain about. Of course, much like in the original movie about two-thirds through Gabriella finds something to mope about and sings a little slow song, but Vanessa does her best work when portraying the character as happy and easy going. Meanwhile, Lucas Grabeel emerges from Ashley Tisdale's shadow and pretty much steals the movie.
Although High School Musical 2 does do a good job at growing up and giving the characters depth and the actors something to work with, it also mostly retains its sense of fun. There's a stretch where Troy begins to act selfishly which perhaps lasts a little too long, but the fears of the future are presented in a very believable manner and lends motive to the characters actions. Although I do think Sharpay is a great character, she is possibly given a little too much focus in this film and although her songs are quite catchy they're usually not the greatest - often amounting to little more than fluff. However, much like High School Musical, everything works out for the best in the end and everyone has grown closer and learnt valuable life lessons. Yet there's still a special spark that just seems missing from this sequel.
High School Musical 2 does provide some great moments, and fans of the first movie should definitely find something to enjoy here, but it clearly isn't for everyone. Most just simply won't be able to get over the tween-appeal, which is a shame because despite its flaws this is still highly enjoyable and an awful lot of fun. Honestly, I'm still baffled as to why I like these movies, but I know for a fact that those songs are now firmly lodged in my brain and they won't be going anywhere anytime soon - and I really don't mind.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film *** / Movie ***