Movie Review: High School Musical 3: Senior Year Sing-Along
By Tasha Robinson, Special to the Chicago Tribune
The "High School Musical" series isn't aimed at high schoolers, who presumably know by now that grades 9 through 12 aren't actually a candy-coated wonderland. It's more aimed at preteens who are still willing to bet high school will be the best thing ever. With those kids firmly in mind, the movies are achingly wholesome, set in a preposterously shiny world where everything looks if it were freshly painted within the last five minutes. The entire franchise is designed to accessorize with the shiniest lip gloss and the sparkliest pink nail polish.
Fortunately for series director Kenny Ortega, there are a lot of adolescent girls in the world. The first two "High School Musical" movies, made for TV's Disney Channel, broke cable viewership records. The first film's soundtrack was 2006's top-selling record. The movies have spawned a touring concert, an ice show, a series of video games and young-adult novels, a reality show spin-off and a stage musical. If "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," the franchise's big-screen debut, comes anywhere close to the 18 million-plus viewership of "High School Musical 2's" cable debut, it could rival the year's other opening-weekend box-office records. Ortega and company could have a hit on their hands just for showing up.
Instead, they rise to the theatrical-release challenge by expanding the dance numbers while minimizing the drama. The core cast from the first two musicals is back, and now they're all seniors, coming to terms with the possibility of graduation. (Actually, the guarantee of graduation, because their idealized version of school lacks classes and grades; it's all lunchrooms, basketball courts and extracurricular fun.) Sweethearts Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) continue their sweet, chaste romance but face separation as they head to different colleges. Snob princess Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) is once again scheming to grab Gabriella's part in the big spring musical. The pressures of prom and the big championship game each get a little lip-service and a big musical number, but the problems blur by harmlessly to let the performers move on to the next piece of bouncy pop. Most of the returning cast has little to do but sing, dance and smile.
"Musical 3" is frustratingly shallow, but what it lacks in narrative ambition, it makes up for in dazzling choreography. Ortega set out to channel cinema's musical classics, from "Singing in the Rain" to "Chicago" - one of this film's bigger numbers, "I Want It All," contains a number of visual winks to those films and others. But his execution is as much Bollywood as Broadway. He crams the screen with spectacular, vivid colors and complicated synchronized movement, making the radio-ready, processed-pop songs distinctly secondary to the dances they inspire.
And in the process, he creates something harmlessly fluffy and fun, a slight but accomplished, entirely agreeable time-waster aimed at the "High School Musical" cultists but unlikely to offend anyone else. It isn't a film so much as a rousing sing-along, clap-along dance party that seems to say, "We made it to the big screen - now let's just kick back and celebrate." Bring your prettiest pink paper hats, and party on.
MPAA rating: G.
Running time: 1:52.
Starring: Zac Efron (Troy); Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella); Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay); Corbin Bleu (Chad); Lucas Grabeel (Ryan).
Directed by Kenny Ortega; screenplay by Peter Barsocchini; photographed by Daniel Aranyo; edited by Don Brochu; production design by Mark Hofeling; choreography by Ortega, Charles Klapow, Bonnie Story; music by David Lawrence; produced by Bill Borden, Barry Rosenbush. A Walt Disney Pictures release.