High School Musical 3: Senior Year, 2008.
Directed by Kenny Ortega.
Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu and Olesya Rulin.
The Wildcats of East High School are now seniors and with graduation fast approaching they have to make some serious decisions about their future.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year was a success story before even gracing cinema screens. Whereas most film franchises start off strong before slowly sliding into straight-to-DVD mediocrity, this Disney produced series of films initially started as two made-for-TV movies. The overwhelming success of High School Musical ensured a much deserved sequel, High School Musical 2, and although this sequel couldn't quite live up to the original it turned enough of a profit for the powers that be to grant High School Musical 3: Senior Year a theatrical release. With a much bigger budget, the Wildcats of East High School are back for one last hurrah.
This film feels like a fitting culmination of hard work and success as we see the cast not only graduate to the big screen but also say their goodbyes to a franchise that effectively gave them a career. It's their final year of high school and time to make some big decisions about the future. The one character most undecided about where his life should take him is Troy Bolton (Zac Efron). Before the introduction of Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) in High School Musical, Troy had his future mapped out - he was to go to the University of Albuquerque with best friend Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu) on a basketball scholarship. But Gabriella tapped into the music in Troy, and now he's not sure if his future should lay in sport or the theatre, and he's considering options beyond New Mexico.
Gabriella, meanwhile, is facing the prospect of moving far away from her boyfriend Troy. She's been accepted to Stanford University and has been invited to an early orientation programme, which means she's likely to miss out on her final few weeks as a senior - including prom and the spring musical production. Gabriella's absence delights diva Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale), who finally has a chance to steal the limelight. There's all to play for too, as four East High students - Troy, Sharpay, Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel) and Kelsi Nielsen (Olesya Rulin) - are competing for one place at Juilliard.
As the characters realise that they're all heading in different directions, High School Musical 3: Senior Year proves to be an emotional farewell - not only for the cast and characters, but for the audience too. We've watched as the actors have grown and matured over the previous two films, whilst enjoying the various relationships and friendships that have been forged both on screen and off. Unfortunately, High School Musical 3: Senior Year does also include some bizarre inclusions. A couple of younger characters are introduced, and there are a couple of scenes that seem to be passing the torch for them to continue this franchise. However, none of them really pack the personality or likeability - the proof being no sequel starring them emerged. Therefore the inclusion of any scenes featuring their characters feels a little awkward, and I was left just wishing for the story to return to the original cast.
Of course, the main thing about High School Musical 3: Senior Year - the one key ingredient that will either draw you in or immediately repel you - is the song and dance numbers. Returning director Kenny Ortega makes the most of the increased budget, and the production feels far more professional. The screen is awash with vibrant colours and expertly choreographed routines, and although the songs may not be quite as memorable as those featured in High School Musical and High School Musical 2, they're all at least fairly enjoyable with no real duds. Particular highlights include 'A Night to Remember', which provides an amusing look at opposing attitudes towards prom, 'The Boys Are Back', a sweet number about childhood imagination, and Zac Efron's solo 'Scream'.
Now, High School Musical 3: Senior Year won't win over any new fans, and snooty critical opinion is sure to dismiss this as flavourless saccharine pop nonsense - but this is not the audience it is striving to reach. Tweeny-boppers and fans of the original two will be delighted with how the story progresses and quite sadly concludes, with an emotional farewell bid to the original characters. By the time the credits roll everyone has their future in order and they're all preparing to go their own way, and the one driving question - can Troy and Gabriella's relationship last? - reaches a satisfying conclusion.
Although I said this in my reviews for High School Musical and High School Musical 2, it's worth reiterating - you'll know from reputation alone if you are a fan of this franchise. This is, ultimately, more of the same, but a wise move was made in bringing it back to the high school setting. High School Musical 2 somewhat suffered by lacking the structure afforded by such a device, and although High School Musical 3: Senior Year isn't quite as wonderful as the original, it is a damn good effort. There really is little to complain about, the acting is impressive, the songs are catchy, the dancing is superb, and the story does what it sets out to do. The Wildcats of East High School graduate with a thundering bang, and it's been one hell of a ride.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film **** / Movie ***