Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens

Lately, I’ve taken a lot of crap from my male friends, other film critics and even radio show hosts for having seen – let alone enjoying to a certain degree – the High School Musical films. And even though I am not a tween girl with a mad crush on Zac Efron, I stand behind my opinion.

Say what you want to about the Walt Disney company, but you cannot deny that they know their market, and they know how to exploit it. That’s not a bad thing. Exploiting a market is what capitalism is all about. There’s a seemingly insatiable market for all things High School Musical, and I do not fault anyone for profiting from it.

In fact, the High School Musical phenomenon is something to be studied by business students and entertainment executive wannabes. This is the first time in recorded history that a second sequel to a made-for-cable movie has been given a big screen treatment… and it’s likely to rake in the cash.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about yet, then you must have been living under a rock. The first Disney Channel Original Movie was meant to be a one-shot deal, but High School Musical became a phenomenon with tweenage girls, the Disney Channel core market. It broke ratings records, and then a year later, its sequel shattered those.

Now, the students at East Side High are in their senior year. Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), Chad (Corbin Blue), Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) have bigger things on their minds than the school musical. They need to decide where they’re going to college and whether Troy and Gabriella will stay together.

However, they all get sucked into being in the new musical called “Senior Year.” In the musical, they play themselves and act out the challenges they face in school and at home. Troy is trying to decide whether to pursue basketball or drama, and Gabriella is struggling with an acceptance to Stanford which will take her 1000 miles away from Troy.

Director Kenny Ortega doesn’t try to change things in this installment, except to give the film a much higher production value and not feel constrained by a broadcast time slot. In fact, the songs are given a Chicago-style treatment, setting them against a dark background with an inspired, surreal focus. There are a few too many songs for my tastes, but I find that a problem with most musicals.

This film has the exact same tone and flavor of its predecessors. The Disney machine didn’t change a bit of the product, and that should bode well for the box office and the screaming 12-year-old Zac Efron fans the world over.

If the thought of High School Musical makes your stomach turn, you’ll want to avoid this film. However, the movie speaks directly to its demographic and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. It doesn’t preach. It’s not out to offend. It’s bubble gum entertainment in its purest form. For the right audience – and you know who you are – this one will be a hit.

The Upside: The higher concept dance numbers are pretty cool.

The Downside: It’s everything you’d expect it to be.

On the Side: Our illustrious executive editor Neil Miller has been giving me crap about this movie for weeks. But he’s the one who is addicted to Gossip Girl.

Grade: B+


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