January 17, 2009 -- Not having seen High School Musical 1 and 2, I didn't really have the background to see 3, but I went anyway to see what the all the fuss was about. This is a very popular movie at the box office. Worldwide total ticket sales for this film are over $244 million, making it a blockbuster. On the Disney Channel, the first two made-for-TV movies had among the highest ratings ever for any cable TV show.
The movie, with its squeaky-clean G rating and its filming location in Salt Lake City seems like something out of the old Mickey Mouse Club, or maybe something the Osmond family would produce. One of the film's stars, Vanessa Hudgens, who plays hottie Gabriella Montez, even looks a bit like that original Mouseketeer star of the 1950s and 1960s, Annette Funicello. Playing her boyfriend, Troy Bolton is Zac Efron. As near as I can tell, the original High School Musical was loosely based on Romeo and Juliet with Troy and Gabriella coming from different social groups in the school. By the time Musical 3 rolls around though, Troy and Gabriella are a hot item and the differences in these social groupings seems to have diminished. The only drama left is where do they decide to go to college, and will they still be an item next year? Troy is a jock and Gabriella a math whiz, so it is unlikely they will end up at the same school.
Troy is expected to accept a basketball scholarship to a major university along with his high school basketball teammate, Chad (Corbin Bleu). Gabriella, in turn earns a scholarship to Stanford University, far away from where Troy is expected to go to college. In addition, Troy and three other students at the high school are under consideration for scholarships to the prestigious Julliard performing arts school. This leads to intense competition for good songs and dances in the big school musical (which will be attended by representatives of Julliard). Troy doesn't seem too concerned about the competition, but is concerned about not being in the same school with Gabriella. He is also unsure which career path he should follow.
There are a number of energetic song and dance numbers, some slower song and dance numbers and some heartfelt ballads. Director Kenny Ortega, who also directed High School Musicals 1 and 2, knows how to work the formula and he knows his cast well. Still, there are those unsettling moments when people burst into song for no particular reason. I found myself caring less about the musical numbers, which are, on the whole, fairly unremarkable. I found the voices of these young people all very similar to each other. Some of them were hitting such high notes it sounded like they'd been breathing helium. Nobody was singing in a range below that of tenor. I found myself caring more about the stories of these kids and how they try to cope with the rapid pace of change in their lives. The two main characters, Troy and Gabriella, are very attractive and they have good romantic chemistry. They also have good singing voices, with Gabriella nearing the twittery vocal range of Alvin and the singing chipmunks. I'm glad I didn't pay full price to see this, but it is not a bad way to pass some time in a bargain theater or a cheap movie rental. This film rates a C+.
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