“Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat!”
It’s quite fitting that, as Vanessa Hudgens attempts to destroy her clean-cut Disney image in Springbreakers and Ashley Tisdale commits career suicide in Scary Movie 5, our Movie Lottery draw selected High School Musical 3: Senior Year. The trilogy put both these actresses on the map, propelling them to stardom alongside Zac Efron; technically the ensemble cast focuses on six kids, but the franchise quickly became an Efron-Hudgens vehicle and, of the bunch, it is these two who have proved the most successful since it finished in 2008.
The third and final film follows the same format as the former two, but is bigger in both budget and scale due to its cinematic release – parts one and two are among the many made-for-television movies Disney churn out. If you’re curious (or worried), the only others to feature in our collection are Camp Rock 2: Final Jam and, for some reason I’ve since forgotten, Princess Protection Program. None matched the success and popularity of High School Musical however; it even beat Mama Mia!‘s opening weekend.
Senior Year is rather self-explanatory; basketball star/singing sensation Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), his high school sweetheart Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), friends Chad and Taylor, and their frenemies Sharpay and Ryan Evans are all entering the final months of school. While they attempt to make the best school musical ever – the story of their own experiences – they are all dealing with the knowledge that soon they will be growing up, leaving school, and entering the adult world. Can their friendships and relationships survive? I don’t want to give anything away, but it is a Disney movie, after all.
Featuring over fifty minutes of song and dance numbers – more than half the film’s running time – this is easily the best of the franchise. The songs are infectious, catchy, memorable pop tunes, while the official musical running parallel to their lives allows for some impressive set pieces that pay direct homage to the glory days of the Hollywood musical. Cancan girls, bright lights, stage props and rapid costume changes all feature and, even if the idea of a wholesome, tween-centric musical extravaganza makes your ears bleed, I challenge you to not get at least a little bit caught up in the delightful innocence that runs throughout.
Efron and Hudgens are the glue that holds the trilogy together – they are the best actors of the group (Gabriella’s friend Taylor is horribly affected, while Chad is non-descript as Troy’s bland best buddy; though Lucas Grabeel deserves a mention for his portrayal of flamboyant, camp Ryan) and, particularly in scenes together, are warm and engaging. Their romance, developing over the course of three films, is an idealistic fairytale, but there’s nothing wrong with leaving adult cynicism at the door for an hour and a half.
Naturally, it is twee, overly optimistic, bubblegum bright and absolutely preposterous; everyone is super talented and suspiciously nice, disagreements are mild and quickly replaced by unanimous understanding and support, couples are still content to simply hold hands after three years together, nasty girls learn lessons without complaining and reform instantly (or at least until the next movie), and there’s not even the slightest hint at underage drinking at a house party. Yet it is precisely because of these things that High School Musical is such a joy. In a cinematic world where darker is apparently always better, it’s quite refreshing to see a pure, untainted vision of high school utopia – and, honestly, the songs really are quite good.