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Movie Tuesday: High School Musical 3: Senior Year (G)

High School Influential
Disney’s ubiquitous franchise takes a (final?) bow

by Kristen Page-Kirby and Jared Peterson

Kristen Page-Kirby, editor of Chesapeake Family magazine, and writer Jared Peterson are the regular movie critics on ChesapeakeFamily.com. They are also friends who enjoy making fun of things. When it was announced that High School Musical 3 would hit theaters (the previous two were television movies), Page-Kirby and Peterson decided that the temptation to mock together was just too great, so they teamed up over gchat to review the jazz-handsy juggernaut. Below is the transcript:

KPK: Want to tell our tens of readers the plot?
JBP: Having not seen the first two films, I’ll do my best.
KPK: I can help fill in the holes
JBP: The whole High School Musical gang is back, this time wrestling with the trials and tribulations of their senior year. Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) are still the perfect couple, but they have to wrestle with the prospect of a long-distance relationship and which dreams to follow as they move on to college.
KPK: Oooh, you got all the actors’ names and everything
JBP: I have cable–I watch The Soup. This is not my first rodeo. Anyway, the big musical is being written by the seniors themselves, based on their feelings about the big choices on the horizon. And, of course, it’s also about the pure and chaste love of Troy and Gabriella, and the prospect of the best years of their lives being ahead of them. Naturally, I’m horribly bitter about the whole thing.
KPK: Heh. You forgot that the evil Sharpay returns, trying to steal the best songs from Troy and Gabriella. She does that in every movie, and she’d get away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids
JBP: Yes, it’s business as usual for all the characters (or so I take it).
 KPK: Did you get the sense that they were trying to set up High School Musical 4 and kind of crowning a new generation?
JBP: With Sharpay going to the local college and returning next year to “help run the theater department.” Sequel!
 KPK:  In terms of the first two, this is probably the strongest. It’s got the same wholesomeness (Troy and Gabriella never kissed in the first movie, and only kissed in the second after some pretty over-the-top, yet funny, interruptions.)
JBP: Right. The kiss spoilers consist mainly of self-restraint here.
KPK: But I liked that the message has grown with the characters. The first one was pretty much about how–gasp–a boy can be an athlete AND be into theater. The second one was about how you should stay true to your friends and not sell your soul for money. And this one is about how what your parents want and what YOU want may be two different things.  And about how a boy can be an athlete and into theater.
JBP: Heh heh
KPK: Which is, of course, a timeless lesson
JBP: Totally.
KPK: I have to say I was never bored during the entire movie
JBP: Me neither. Even though there were no big surprises, the movie got on with its business, took you along for the ride.
KPK: Right. It was tightly written–although I kind of wish the music served a more traditional function in moving the story along, like it does in “real” musicals
JBP: And I found–to my surprise, though it may have been a forgone concluson to fans of the other films–that the whole thing was executed with a remarkable dignity.
KPK: I know! I think the performances really helped that–Zac Efron in particular has kind of the earnest cheesiness that is necessary in musical theater. And I mean “earnest cheesiness” as a compliment
JBP: Yes, of course. The performers are all quite talented (I always respect films in which the actors have to know how to DO things–sing, dance, feel). And they all perform with a refreshing unselfconsciousness.
KPK: In fact, the whole movie has that feel. Like the scenes in the High School Musical within High School Musical, the props are clearly intended to look “handmade”–the limo that takes them to “prom” is cardboard, etc. The “sets” actually look like something high school kids might have made. Really TALENTED high school kids, but still.
JBP: Great use of space in the film. Stage sets, the absurdly spacious high school, especially the outdoor spaces.
KPK: The rooftop scene? Fantastic. And the song was good, too
JBP: The scene on the roof, with the mountains (of Utah, standing in for those of New Mexico)
KPK: HAHAHAHA! We think the same
JBP: The graduation, too. Excellent use of natural light.
KPK: I also noticed a couple of very clever things. During Troy’s Big Insanity Number,there was a pretty clear allusion to “Footloose.” Which I enjoyed. I also have “Sharpay is wearing Carol Channing’s wig for some reason” in my notes
JBP: Sharpay got off a clever Bob Fosse reference.
JBP: One for the old school theater geeks. (Peterson raises hand)
KPK: The thing is, the movie doesn’t pander to its audience. However, I’m pretty sure its audience isn’t ACTUAL high school seniors
JBP: Absolutely. There were all 2nd to 6th graders in at my screening
KPK: Which, oh, these kids are going to go to high school, and try out for the musical, and their little hearts are going to be crushed into bits when they’re cast as Villager #7 in Fiddler on the Roof.

JBP: I was taken–as an adult viewer who, again, has cable–by the fact that this is a high school world that is refreshingly desexualized. Such a welcome departure from, like, everything else in the entire world.
KPK: I have in my notes “odd to have a teen movie that’s not all about getting laid.” Even though this isn’t, strictly speaking, a teen movie
JBP: But desexualized thoughtfully. It never, ever seemed forced. That is a genuine filmmaking achievement.
KPK: But to see high schoolers not having sex, not drinking, not smoking–even nearly everyone that appeared on a bike wore a helmet–it was well done. They created this entirely sanitized world that’s totally unrealistic, but you buy it, because everyone associated with/in the film seems to buy it
JBP: Yes. It’s important to note that no film in the history of cinema has ever portrayed high school realistically.
KPK: Although, let’s take a moment to look at anything that might give parents pause. I’ve got boys in towels with no shirts, a flash of dance panties in the last number and Troy and Gabriella are in her room alone at one point
JBP: Yes. Distressingly low-slung towels.
JBP: And Sharpay’s big entrance, owing partly to the director’s attempt t keep her face hidden for a bit, focusses on her body, to include her short skirt. In one shot, her swishing purple leather enveloped backside fills the frame.
KPK: You know what I like best? Or almost best? That Gabriella is smart. And it’s not played for laughs. She’s smart, she’s pretty, she unfortunately sings through her nose, but she dates a really cute guy who LIKES that she’s smart. Also, the heavier girl who’s a minor character but can really dance–she’s a cheerleader? It’s like, “Hey! Some people in high school don’t look like they belong on Gossip Girl!”
JBP: It is what it is. Sweet–treacly, even–but a well-executed and perfectly appropriate entertainment.
KPK: Yes indeedy. Oh! I meant to say that I thought the last number was kind of weak and too meta for its own good
JBP: Yes. Plus the commencement scene…Drawn out too long.
KPK: Well, yeah. But I think you were supposed to use that time for dancing in the aisles
JBP: And who picks their major, let along announces it, while still in high school?
KPK: I was Spanish and pre-law! And ended up being English and Poli Sci
JBP: I was theater to start. But again, no way in hell I was announcing that to anyone.
 JBP: For nine seconds.
 KPK: That’s ok. I was three credits short of a theater minor
 JBP: I was English. 3 credits shy of an Anthropology minor.
KPK: I did kind of want an American Graffitti-style update, about how Troy and Gabriella broke up 7 weeks after arriving at school, because YOU KNOW THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED
JBP: That’s what sequels are for.
KPK: So, to sum up?
JBP: Again—no film, ever, has escaped teen stereotypes completely.
 KPK: It didn’t suck. I didn’t hate it. Zac Efron is cute. I now have something to talk about my niece with at Thanksgiving
JBP: So it’s not a wash. You came out ahead. That’s all you can ask these days.
KPK: But I think it was better than “We thought it would suck, and it didn’t!”
  It was actually kind of…good on its own merits
JBP: I went in with very low expectations, and came out pleasantly surprised.
 KPK: Previews, at a 2:20 showing at Annapolis Mall, I had “Bedtime Stories,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Coraline,” “Despereaux” and the “Bolt” meta-trailer
JBP: I had Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (PG), an animated wildlife movie; The Tale of Despereaux (not yet rated), an animated mouse movie; Bolt (PG) an animated dog movie; Marley and Me (not yet rated), a live-action dog movie; Bedtime Stories (not yet rated), a live-action family movie; and Paul Blart: Mall Cop (PG), a live-action doofus movie.


Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family. Jared Peterson writes at proweirdo.blogspot.com.

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