High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Movie Information

The Story: A collection of teens deal with the pains of G-rated high school, while attempting to stage their senior-year musical. The Lowdown: A poorly directed, meandering musical full of unmemorable pop songs. As a whole, the movie is of little use to anyone who’s not already a fan of the series’ previous television incarnations.
Score:

Genre: Tween Musical
Director: Kenny Ortega (Hocus Pocus)
Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu
Rated: G

It’s days before Halloween, and Kenny Ortega’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year—Disney’s love letter to everything that is upbeat and cheery—has beat the box-office gross of the holiday stalwart, Saw V, by nearly $3 million. While this may say something about the quality of the previous four Saws, it’s actually more an indicator of the almighty tween-girl market.

If judged solely by box-office totals and the film’s ability to please its target audience, the movie’s certainly a success. Honestly, I’d have been more amazed if the film had been a failure, given the limited demands of the movie’s rabid teenybopper fan base. All the filmmakers had to do to guarantee the film’s success was provide a sufficient number of close-ups of heartthrob Zac Efron’s (Hairspray) face and the opportunity for him to take his shirt off.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this approach. This kind of pre-teen-centric entertainment has, and always will, exist. As long as there is Tiger Beat magazine, there will be the Efrons and Jonas Brothers of the world. But as anything other than a 12-year-old girl’s escapist fantasy, High School Musical 3 is a tedious, undistinguished, just plain dull mess.

Since the previous two installments of High School Musical were purely TV affairs, I have not had the opportunity—nay, the privilege—of seeing either one, though I can honestly say that I was never lost in the film’s story line. In fact, all you seemingly need to know is that the series is set in high school and there are musical numbers.

There is a plot, involving the G-rated trials and tribulations of being a TV-pretty, affluent, neatly categorized teen. When the film’s biggest issue is school hunk Troy’s (Efron) faulty fuel pump, there’s a definite lack of tension going on. But it’s all simply a means of getting from one song to another. The tunes are of the over-produced, radio-friendly pop variety, with not a one of them being memorable. They also make the fatal mistake of having little to do with advancing the story, so instead of the movie creating any genuine flow or pace, you get things like five minutes of singing and dancing about basketball.

Ortega’s direction doesn’t help either, since his idea of shooting a musical number is having people line up in rows and dance, while having the camera pan left, right and occasionally—one would assume while he’s feeling saucy—up. Thankfully, none of it’s as shrill or pound-you-in-the-face happy as Mamma Mia! (2008), but at least that movie was vaguely entertaining in a wrongheaded train wreck sort of way. Maybe Ortega should’ve taken a cue from Meryl Streep and had Efron goosed by a goat. But even so, High School Musical probably still would’ve been boring.

Things aren’t helped by the fact that Disney’s forced the film to be as white-bread as possible. I understand that this is just good, wholesome family entertainment, but what need is there for the obviously enchanted choreographer (Lucas Grabeel, College Road Trip) to be shoehorned into a relationship with the nerdy girl (Oleysa Rulin, Forever Strong)? Actually, I’m amazed—with the constant forced saccharine happiness and the random breakings out into song—that anyone could attend this school without dying from ennui or Type II diabetes.

But ultimately, the film is—with its built-in audience of preteen girls and their parents’ disposable income—critic-proof, which means we’ll probably be seeing High School Musical: The College Years coming down the pike in a few years. Personally, I’m hoping they go for a musical adaptation of Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction, but that’s simply because I have high hopes for the hit song “It’s Toe-Tag Time in Teen Town Tonight Again.” Rated G.

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14 thoughts on “High School Musical 3: Senior Year

  1. Justin Souther

    You should have had Ken review this. He loves musicals.

    Actually, Ken did screen this with me out of some morbid curiosity.

    And for the record, I had the choice of reviewing this or Pride and Glory and chose unnaturally cheery Disney musical over relentlessly glum cop drama. And I can honestly say I’d probably make the same choice again.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Actually, Ken did screen this with me out of some morbid curiosity.

    And my review would have been no better, believe me. Ye gods.

  3. ColdRyder

    I’ve always hated stupid teen movies like this, mindless films for kids who are so susceptible to the latest teen idol (i.e, Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron, etc.) I can’t actually believe this movie made it to theatres. I guess Ortega was smart though.

  4. Sean Williams

    what need is there for the obviously enchanted choreographer (Lucas Grabeel, College Road Trip) to be shoehorned into a relationship with the nerdy girl (Oleysa Rulin, Forever Strong)?

    Furthermore, what kind of nerdy girl looks like Oleysa Rulin? or Vanessa Hudgens, for that matter?

    The Disney kind, I guess….

  5. ColdRyder

    In response to Williams comment:

    Ha ha. So true, eh? Granted, not all nerds wear braces-glasses combo but really, the superficialness is just too much.

    Kinda funny :)

  6. Ken Hanke

    Furthermore, what kind of nerdy girl looks like Oleysa Rulin? or Vanessa Hudgens, for that matter?

    The target audience of this film lives in hope. It’s all a variant on the old “You, too, can become president of the Atlas Pickle Works” fantasy that movies have been shelling out for years.

  7. Sean Williams

    The target audience of this film lives in hope.

    The target audience of this film is insane. It consists entirely of (a.) middle-school girls with romanticized expectations of high school; (b.) high-school girls in denial of the disappointment of their middle-school expectations of high school; and (c.) adult men who pretend that they’re only watching the film “ironically” because they can’t confess their perverse attraction to the young starlets — and let’s not pretend that Disney doesn’t cater to that last group. Disney is the dealer that sells these people cinematic hallucinogens.

  8. Louis

    The target audience of this film is insane. It consists entirely of (a.) middle-school girls with romanticized expectations of high school; (b.) high-school girls in denial of the disappointment of their middle-school expectations of high school; and (c.) adult men who pretend that they’re only watching the film “ironically” because they can’t confess their perverse attraction to the young starlets—and let’s not pretend that Disney doesn’t cater to that last group.

    I think you’re missing the point in calling the “target audience” of these movies insane.

    It’s been keenly observed that insanity is best described as doing the same thing over and over, expecting a DIFFERENT outcome each time. For these pre-teens High School Musical is about engaging in a communal experience in which they expect more of the SAME. That’s the point–it’s “comfort food” because it’s recognizable to them. It belongs to them. They own it. For most of 2008′s pre-teens, this is the first such serving of pop-culture comfort food they’ve been served, without having to let their Moms & Dads order off the menu for them.

    In the long run this is the build-up to the impending rebellion that comes with a few more years of age. Pre-teens love that these movies are tailored to them, not their parents, their older and younger siblings, or you and me. In this context, the quality of the “content” is secondary; moot if you will.

    These pre-teens all get to meet at the movies, or have a sleep-over at a friend’s house, and watch together. In the grander scheme of movies-as-art, is it drivel?–of course it is. And, with a little luck, in two to three years, when said pre-teens are 15 and 16 years old, they will make fun of the current “pre-teens” who are soaking up the next hollow piece of popular culture being devoured by 8-12 year-olds–isn’t this part of the experience that is “growing up?”

    HSM3 is nothing more than a this year’s rite-of-passage for today’s pre-teens. You had one–as did I–that was equally mystifying to our parents/families.

    Having been born in the early ’70s, in 1981 it was the discovery of MTV. Looking back, the notion of 10-year-olds sitting on their asses for hours on end watching pictures put to music seems, shall we say, less than enlightening. At the time, we thought it was the Bees-Knees–Why? because it was fun and our parents didn’t get it. And now? Music Videos as a stand-alone artform are practically obsolete. Meanwhile, my love of music, and painting my own rhythmic story pictures in my head, is alive and well.

    My point is, how’s is the merit of, say, Music Videos, anymore or less viable than this incarnation of the current American popular culture phenomenon called High School Musical?

    Indeed, I would make the case that human evolution of artistic tastes is critical to one’s development in growing his or her appreciation for meaningful artistic expression. This is captured under the heading: “growing older.” This transitional human experience is what gives one the capacity for being wiser and having refined taste. The journey is what makes it refined. It’s easy for you and I to deconstruct the superficial mindlessness of it all because we already kneeled at this pop-culture altar while we were finding our way, right?

    To say the likes of High School Musical is critic-proof or box-office proof–or whatever “proof”–is a misnomer. It’s parent-proof. The more times and ways you warn them not to drink the Kool-Aid, it serves only to make the drink taste sweeter. Why not let them find their own way by redirecting them to discover alternatives to the High School Musicals of the world so they, too, can appreciate the continuum that is artistic expression and taste?

  9. Ken Hanke

    To say the likes of High School Musical is critic-proof or box-office proof–or whatever “proof”–is a misnomer. It’s parent-proof. The more times and ways you warn them not to drink the Kool-Aid, it serves only to make the drink taste sweeter.

    Louis, your argument is an interesting one, but I’m bound to say that in the end I think it’s wrong in that this isn’t parent-proof, it’s parent-friendly. There is nothing in the film or its squeaky cleanliness to furrow the brow of any parent this side of the most fundamental of fundamentalsts. It really doesn’t compare to MTV — or to take it back to my generation, horror pictures and Beatle movies — because it contains zero edgy content. MTV, whatever its faults, was the kind of thing that put forth occasionally pretty adult ideas. It was, after all, built around rock music. I have no trouble seeing a parent worried about a fondness for Billy Idol or David Lee Roth. I have a lot of trouble seeing a parent getting all a-dither over Zac Efron. A parent might wince internally at the vapid pap of the HSM songs, but contrast them with, say, Pete Townshend’s “Rough Boys” — a song about a guy picking up street boys — and the video for that was in heavy rotation once upon a time on MTV.

    Maybe I had a subversive mindset pretty early on, but it wasn’t enough that my parents didn’t like something to make it tantalizing; it had to in some way bother them to a level of at least slight disapproval. This HSM stuff is on a par with the kind of Disney movie we got hauled to as safe entertainment. It was certainly never any altar at which I knelt, nor do I know anyone who by the age of 9 or 10 would have. Offered the option of a Disney movie or Kiss of the Vampire or A Hard Day’s Night, Disney would have lost.

    HSM strikes me in much the same way as Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus strikes me — a wholly manufactured phenomenon. A parent-endorsed fabrication that simply can’t be compared to the realm of MTV or the like. As a parent (and, yes, I am, though my daughter’s probably about as old as you, Louis), the only fear I could imagine being generated from HSM would be the development of lousy taste in films and music.

  10. Louis

    Louis, your argument is an interesting one, but I’m bound to say that in the end I think it’s wrong in that this isn’t parent-proof, it’s parent-friendly.

    Forgive me for invoking my pre-teen-daughter-parent license, but I live and breathe with the HSM “target demographic” and have seen, repeatedly, she and all her f-r-i-e-n-d-s in action during the first two tours-of-HSM- duty.

    To say it is parent-friendly is, more to the point I’m making, a separate, though equally interesting, product packaging and marketing issue.

    There is a pre teen-ish subtext here–i.e., Zac Efron is rumored to be gay; Vanessa Hudgins posed nude. Now, to you and I, these nuggets of fandom do little more than inspire a half-hearted yawn. But, to my daughter and her friends, this is a hot topic. It’s scintillating.

    It is parent-friendly only to the extent that the parents are comfortable dropping them off at the movies with friends, or leaving them unattended in the living room in front of it, but the content still belongs to the kids. They may know their parents are letting them watch it, but it doesn’t change the illusion of subversiveness within their interior clique. Put another way, the degree of subversiveness is relative and will continue to intensify as she–they–ages. (I can dream, can’t I)?

    As for me–Mr. Parent? Two thoughts come to mind…

    I took the same HSM-loving daughter to see TROPIC THUNDER this weekend (disappointing, by the way), whereby the middle-aged male ticketseller cautioned me, “You DO realize this is a Rated R movie.” To which I thought, but refrained from saying, you DO realize my decision is none of your damn business.

    The second thought is this: I may be the only parent you know who actively uses my 21st century TV’s parental V-Chip to block only one channel–the Disney Channel. ;)

  11. Sean Williams

    HSM3 is nothing more than a this year’s rite-of-passage for today’s pre-teens. You had one–as did I–that was equally mystifying to our parents/families.

    You make a compelling case, Louis, and you’re right that I was incorrect to label the audience of High School Musical as “insane”. Nevertheless, I have to side with Mr. Hanke on this issue.

    Disney movies hardly represent rebellion (besides which, rebellion isn’t always a necessary to a child’s development of independence; some children learn independence by obedience to their parents’ advice). I have three school-age sisters, and in observing their social circles, my consistent impression has been that the children who like High School Musical are the most sheltered. All the “cool” preteens regard Disney as immature and shallow. It’s too mellow to offend even the most conservative parents, and really, provocation is every adolescent’s ultimate goal, right?

    My point is, how’s is the merit of, say, Music Videos, anymore or less viable than this incarnation of the current American popular culture phenomenon called High School Musical?

    Its merit isn’t any more or less: both have equally low merit, as far as I’m concerned.

    Indeed, I would make the case that human evolution of artistic tastes is critical to one’s development in growing his or her appreciation for meaningful artistic expression.

    Yes, but exposure to High School Musical doesn’t stimulate the evolution of artistic tastes. As your yourself said earlier, viewers expect great regularity in their experience with High School Musical. It’s not intellectually challenging. And again, one need not rebel against one’s parents to develop good taste.

  12. Louis

    Disney movies hardly represent rebellion (besides which, rebellion isn’t always a necessary to a child’s development of independence; some children learn independence by obedience to their parents’ advice).

    I suppose it’s a limitation of weblogs that my line of reasoning could somehow be construed as purporting that Disney represents “rebellion.” Again, I think you and Ken are getting bogged down — distracted, if you will — by the merits of the content. I said of HSM: “In the long run this is the build-up to the impending rebellion that comes with a few more years of age.” In other words, it’s the precursor to that rebellion, should it come. The degree of rebellious content (of which there is none) in HSM is irrelevant. They like it because of the music about school-life and the fact that it’s insular — it’s about them and geared specifically to them. Not you. Not me.

    Agreed, rebellion is not required to “learn independence” — but it don’t hurt. My point is that the likes of HSM is nothing more than a mile-marker on the pathway that is an adolescent’s development in taste. When these kids do rebel, diversify, or patronize edgier artistic and pop culture fare with their parents’ approval, this is the garbage that they’ll look back and laugh about, saying, “I can’t believe I liked THAT” or some variation.

    I have three school-age sisters, and in observing their social circles, my consistent impression has been that the children who like High School Musical are the most sheltered.

    Not with the first two HSM installments; I’d disagree. In the context of cable television programming, the 2nd was a pre-teen pop culture phenomenon. It was the most watched program in this history of basic cable. Are we saying that over 17 million “uncool” pre-teens soaked this up? Either the preponderance of pre-teens embody the anti-cool, or some of these so-called “cool” pre-teens took a sip of the Kool-Aid, too.

    What I would say is that the “cool” pre-teens catch on to the pre-packaged lameness of it all before their counterparts. And, yes, those counterparts tend to lead more sheltered lives. Along these lines, I was quite curious how my daughter (6th grader), and her network of friends, would respond when I originally read that HSM would be a 2008 theatrical release.

    And the response? She and her friends have no interest in seeing it. When I asked her why, she said she was a little curious to hear the new songs, but that was it.

    Yes, but exposure to High School Musical doesn’t stimulate the evolution of artistic tastes. As your yourself said earlier, viewers expect great regularity in their experience with High School Musical. It’s not intellectually challenging. And again, one need not rebel against one’s parents to develop good taste.

    It doesn’t necessarily stimulate the evolution of artistic tastes, but, I would argue, it has the potential to do so. This is where I’m saying you’re getting unnecessarily caught up in the content’s merits. My point is that the evolution of taste is a journey. Bad art and bad culture is part of that journey, whether we like or not; whether we want to admit it or not. Not only that, it can be crucial in helping one to
    r-e-f-i-n-e their tastes. The role of bad art is important; how it’s packaged, disseminated, interpreted, and afforded posterity says much about the culture and generation that produced and consumed it — i.e., gave rise to it. The adolescent rebellion comes when their malleable worldview is taking shape enough that there is cognitive dissonance between what is and what can be. In the case of pre-teens, it will occur to them — if hasn’t already — that their parents “approve” of HSM, so the franchise becomes guilty-by-association: “My parents approve of this? My little sister likes it, too? Then, it can’t be cool!” And, so, it’s time to move on to the next incarnation of popular culture tailored toward young teens. In the case of my daughter and her friends, with regard to movies, they’ve discovered MEAN GIRLS and SCHOOL OF ROCK (yes, these movies are a few years older, but DVDs have changed this equation for all eternity). This is, afterall, why they’re called “tweeners.” They’re in transition, in more ways than one.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I understand your point, Louis, but I don’t think you can – at least productively — divorce the content from the argument. Setting aside the questions of subtext (or more correctly, sidetext, since nothing about the films/shows themselves indicates that Efron is gay or that what’s her name has posed nude), this stuff is so sanitized that it simply isn’t threatening. It really isn’t anything but product — it’s the Barbie doll of movies — and it’s created in that fashion. It’s designed to assuage a parent’s fear that their child might be seeing something “inappropriate.” You yourself are noting that it reaches a point where it’s no longer “cool” because of this, but what surprises — and maybe alarms me — is that it seems to take so long for this to happen, or so it appears.

    This perhaps is a difference in eras, and it could have something to do with my “tweener” years (blessedly, before anyone thought such a term was necessary) coincided with the Beatles and everything that went with it. If ever anything wasn’t designed to appeal to parents, this was it. It at least felt like it happened naturally and that it hadn’t been targeted at us (which it wasn’t, the presumed audience was older). There was a sense that we had discovered something, not that something had been marketed to us with the parental seal of approval. Perhaps it was just luck. After all, the Beatles are still a part of popular culture some 40-odd years later. Does anyone really think that HSM will even be remembered in 10 years?

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