High School Musical, 2006.
Directed by Kenny Ortega.
Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and Corbin Bleu.
Two teens decide to buck the status quo and audition for their school musical.
Being a mid-twenties heterosexual male who is at least mildly cineliterate, the title High School Musical should result in my top lip curling up into a sneer and a barrage of withering witty put-downs. Cynicism and general film snobbery should cause this Disney made-for-TV film to elicit uncomfortable shudders and snide remarks, blinded by its reputation before a single note has even been sung. Tween boppers and saccharine songs are a world away from the low-intelligence action flicks and gore-fuelled horrors that society dictates I should be watching and enjoying. Needless to say, having hit puberty some time ago, I am not this film’s target audience. But it is bloody enjoyable.
The film begins by borrowing quite heavily from Grease (1978) – cool basketball guy Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) meets intelligent shy girl Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) during a vacation. The sun-soaked beaches from Grease are replaced by a wintery ski resort here, and both Troy and Gabriella are thrust together during a kid-friendly New Years Eve party. They’re both plucked from the crowd to sing a karaoke duet together, the appropriately titled ‘Start of Something New’. Naturally there’s a spark between the two of them, but the clock strikes midnight and Gabriella rushes off to find her mother moments after exchanging phone numbers with Troy. Could it be just a winter fling?
Anyone even vaguely familiar with Grease will be unsurprised to learn that Gabriella has been transferred to East High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which just so happens to be the same school that Troy attends. Of course, Troy has a reputation to keep and doesn’t want word to get out about his singing exploits, but seeing Gabriella leads to questions of identity and issues surrounding parental pressure. With a small amount of persuasion both Troy and Gabriella audition for the winter musical, and the cliques within the high school system begin to break down.
At times there does seem to be a worrying message inherent in High School Musical, which is most obvious during the song ‘Stick to the Status Quo’. The film seems to be informing its impressionable young audience (and myself) that one should ignore their hobbies and interests if they conflict with their social status within the school – jocks shouldn’t admit to baking and the intelligent kids definitely shouldn’t be popping and locking hip-hop style. Troy’s basketball buddies are less than impressed with his newfound passion for singing, whilst the scholastic decathlon team are determined to keep Gabriella away from the Neanderthal jocks. Even Troy’s father, who also happens to be the school’s basketball coach, is remarkably unsupportive of his stage aspirations. But this being a Disney film rest assured it all works out well in the end as everyone realises their mistakes and the true message of the film shines through – be who you are! We’re all in this together, after all, and if you get’cha head in the game you can accomplish anything.
Both Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens provide likeable leads with well-formed characters that are given a little depth, whilst Corbin Bleu as Chad Danforth seems to have a lot of fun with his role. The adult cast are simply secondary and don’t overshadow from the younger talent, whilst Ashley Tisdale as the boo-hiss villain Sharpay Evans relishes in her character’s mean-spirited diva behaviour. It’s just a shame that Sharpay is mostly given pretty lacklustre songs that don’t really give her much opportunity to shine.
The song and dance numbers are all executed with flair, and director Kenny Ortega has a good eye for choreography. Unfortunately most of a certain age and mindset will feel that High School Musical is beneath them, unable to just relax and give in to the sickly sweet fun of the film – but that’s their loss. As for me, I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about this film that I find so appealing. It could be my fascination with movie portrayals of the American high school system, or perhaps the fact that I find most musicals at least toe-tappingly tolerable if not outright brilliant. Regardless, High School Musical presents a key that allows you to unlock the big kid inside that’ll have you wanting to get out of your chair and sing and dance along if you’re willing to succumb to its charms.
You’ll know already if you are a fan of High School Musical or not for its reputation precedes it, but if you are yet to see it and are capable of entering a movie with an open mind and if you’re even a little bit curious I’d definitely recommend at least giving it a go. I initially went in to this movie sceptical and curious to investigate its appeal, and it’s just such a fun-filled enjoyable little movie that I came away a fan. Sure, it has its flaws – at times the acting is a little stilted, some of the songs don’t quite hit the right note (particularly Gabriella’s solo ‘When There Was Me and You’) and it is incredibly aware of its target demographic so it often succumbs to contrivance, but the film skilfully crafts an exuberant uplifting climax that results in a warm smile-inducing feeling that remains after the credits have rolled, and sometimes that’s all a film needs to do.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film *** / Movie ****