“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is an adage Hollywood often ignores. Equally, if it looks like a hit, why not repeat the formula over and over again? The enormous success of High School Musical and its sequel on Disney Channel made it inevitable that the studio would recycle the concept for feature films. If studios can make movie versions of shows as Starsky and Hutch and The A-Team, it’s a no-brainer to reproduce this kid-friendly franchise that scored phenomenal ratings in this millennium. The latest outing finds high school seniors Troy and Gabriella facing the prospect of being separated from one another as they head off in different directions to college. Joined by the rest of the Wildcats, they stage an elaborate spring musical reflecting their experiences, hopes and fears about their future. With new music and dance numbers designed to take maximum advantage of the big screen, Disney has re-assembled the cast, along with director-choreographer Kenny Ortega and screenwriter Peter Barsocchini, to provide the same mix of teen romance and musical numbers that would seem to guarantee success once again at the box office.
The movie begins with a scene-setting blast of energy as basketball star Troy (Zac Efron) not only leads his team to victory but also belts out a song while he’s shooting hoops.
The tensions that arise – should Troy go to the U of A to play basketball or to Juilliard on a music scholarship? – are the massive bridges to be crossed when you‘re a teen with love on your mind and an athletic scholarship ready to cash. The conflict is provided by scheming rich girl Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), who’s only got one aim – to take the place of Troy’s girlfriend, Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), both on and offstage. An international casting search involving over 1000 teen actors across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom led to the casting of three rising young talents – Matt Prokop, Justin Martin, and Jemma McKenzie-Brown – as sophomore Wildcats who join the crew.
When Disney’s High School Musical premiered in January 2006, it posted the highest ever ratings for a Disney Channel original movie at the time. It went on to become a smash hit internationally, airing on 27 Disney Channels and free-to-air broadcasters worldwide, and reached over 250 million viewers in over 20 languages across 100 countries including China. It was also the first TV movie to be offered on the iTunes Music Store. It also delivered licensed amateur and professional touring stage productions, a best-selling junior novel, a popular consumer products franchise at mass retailers, a themed show at Disneyland, a sold-out 42 date arena concert tour, and a popular touring ice show around the world. Adding to its success, it won two Emmy Awards, a DGA Award, an Imagen Award and a Director’s Guild of America Award among other honours. Think Riverdance and multiply by 10 and you’ll be in the ballpark. As this one opens over the mid-term break, rest assured your teen daughter will be amongst the huge number of kids queuing to see this one. For those of us oldsters who still watch the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland school musicals every Christmas, High School Musical marches to a generally similar theme – but with an attitude and musical inclination that is distinctly 21st century. It’s all-singing and dancing in a thoroughly upbeat American fashion – a Grease for the new Millennium, if you will. The story line is paper thin, but the dance numbers are eye-popping and more than make up for paper-thin acting ability in many cases.
This is music done in that old-fashioned All-American way – loud, brash and unashamedly confident. In this season of dark evenings, it provides a colourful spectacle for many to escape into.