Disney // 2008 // 112 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // February 17th, 2009
Together right to the very end.
After being slow on the uptake, I've now completed my High School Musical experience. We started with a charming update of Grease; sweet and simple, the music and choreography resonated strongly with the Disney Channel crowd who now had a musical to call their own. Little did anyone expect it would become a worldwide phenomenon. Success begat High School Musical 2, a frustrating update of Dirty Dancing, whose plot, dialogue, and performances almost sank the film's musical and visual assets. That didn't stop kids from becoming rabid fans once again, but for anyone outside that buffer zone the franchise had quickly become migraine inducing. Which brings us to the inevitable release of High School Musical 3; two-hours of non-existent plot, musical repetition, and the introduction of three new characters who are sure to take the series into another three years of Disney revenue generation. If there was ever a need for a mercy killing, now would be the time.
Two-thirds of the way through their senior year and tensions are running high. Troy (Zac Efron), Chad (Corbin Bleu), and Zeke (Chris Warren Jr.) are on the verge of losing the basketball championship. Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) has been invited into Stanford's freshman honors program, but her acceptance will mean missing out on the Spring Musical and possibly even prom. With a Julliard scholarship on the line, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) is once again suffering through second billing and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) is discovering feelings for his creative partner Kelsi (Olesya Rulin), while finally stepping out from behind his sister's enormous ego. Taylor (Monique Coleman) has a yearbook to produce, and a boyfriend to manipulate. Oh, and there are three sophomores shadowing them all, learning the ropes from East High's student body elite.
Conceived, designed, and shot for theatrical release, High School Musical 3: Senior Year is certainly bigger in look and feel, but that means nothing if your characters remain small. With no other musical inspiration to draw from -- save for A Chorus Line moment in Act Two and a Royal Wedding homage in Act Four -- screenwriter Peter Barsocchini and director Kenny Ortega have run out of gas. Like many TV series reunion movies, they try to give fans more of what they love, but forget about story in the process.
This script is a bloated narrative mess, devoid of a compelling through line, save for graduation and the emotional impact of transitioning from kids to adults. The result is a series of disconnected moments in which characters worry about where their life is going and if they'll ever see each other again. But that kind of emotional masturbation is not nearly enough to sustain two hours. In fact, after a while, they start cannibalizing themselves. The drama of Vanessa leaving Troy to be true to herself is the same conflict they had in the last film, complete with yet another angry-musical-existential-youth-crisis for him ("Scream"), and a weepy-self-realization number for her ("Walk Away").
That's not to say the film is completely bereft of inventiveness. The music and choreography remain the series saving grace. Using the Spring Musical as a way to share their high school experience gives Ortega and company an opportunity to play with non-linear convention. Ryan and Sharpay get the biggest and best musical set piece in "I Want it All," which could be interpreted as either a dream sequence or the play's showstopping number. The same holds true for the two prom numbers -- "A Night to Remember" and "Can I Have This Dance" -- the first being a comedic look at preparations for the big night, and the second a romantic fantasy waltz on the dance floor.
On the flipside, "The Boys are Back" is a good 10-15 minutes that could have been left on the cutting room floor. This Michael Jackson inspired interlude, giving Troy and Chad one last chance to relive favorite childhood memories, is painfully out of place. Storywise, I understand what they were going for, but the whole Thriller/Bad vibe is about 20 years past its expiration date. In fact, the entire concept of Troy and his derelict pickup truck is ill conceived. Sure, it gets them to the junkyard for this number, but at what point in these three films did we come to learn that Troy was gearhead? And are we really expected to believe a truck that can't make it from home to school and back without breaking down is going to survive at 2,000 mile round trip excursion from Albequerque to Stanford? Please.
Okay, I may be taking this cast and crew a little too much to task. After all, this is Disney family entertainment. But if you're going to make a good filmgoing experience, do it across the board and play up to the strengths of everyone involved. You have talented cast on hand. These kids have grown and matured over the past three years, learning from each other and the business, and it shows. Zac, despite looking tired and disconnected, is able to turn it on during the musical numbers, and even manages to stick an authentic moment with Alyson Reed (Mrs. Darbus) near the end. Vanessa maintains that adorable font of endless sweetness and smiles, while, Corbin, Monique, and Lucas are patiently waiting to step into roles much bigger than these characters. I hope this business affords them all an opportunity to challenge casting directors and grow beyond the dreaded teen idol limitations. My biggest concern is for Ashley. She has great comedic timing, but signing on for a fourth film puts her at risk at becoming the Screech of this franchise, and dooming her to a life in Disney Channel hell. She's better than that.
Presented in 1.85:1 1080p widescreen, High School Musical 3 is far from the most impressive Blu-ray on the Disney slate. There's a definite brightening of the image, making the DVD presentation seem dingy by comparison. It's not the eye-popping difference you'll see in films like the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, but the distinction is noticeable. The audio is really where you feel the difference. There's no comparison between the enveloping DTS-HD track and the requisite Dolby 5.1 mix. Sound continues to be the biggest asset of the Blu-ray format, creating that theatrical experience in your home, without having to shell out thousands of dollars for a top-line home theatre system.
This is a three-disc set, so you would expect a wealth of bonus materials, right? Nope. Disc Two is a copy of the Extended Edition on standard DVD, and Disc Three is your digital copy. Color me ignorant, but I still fail to see the need of carrying a DVD library around on your iPod or laptop, that is unless you're traveling to Europe and the Pacific Rim several times each month.
Of the bonus features we do receive...
Sing-Along -- Follow the bouncing basketball as you karaoke with every single musical number from the film.
Deleted Scenes -- Kenny Ortega intros this 8 scene collection by saying he wishes the final cut was three hours (ugh...) and how emotionally attached he was to some of the cuts. However, almost all of these are brief transitional moments with no real character development. There is one that explains the setup for the early morning tea pot scene between Kelsi and Ryan, but that's about it.
Out of Synch (3 min) -- Bloopers from the set, which aren't all that funny or insightful.
Cast Goodbyes (6 min) -- The cast share their final, emotional thoughts on the journey of the past three years.
It's All in the Dress (3 min) -- A look at the design of Gabriella, Sharpay, Taylor, and Kelsi's dresses for the prom.
New Cast Profiles (14 min) -- Interviews with and video diaries by the three newest Wildcats and the future of the franchise -- Jemma McKenzie-Brown (Tiara), Matt Prokop (Rocket Man), and Justin Martin (Donny).
Night of Nights (8 min) -- The design and execution of the film's two contrasting prom sequences.
Senior Awards (2 min) -- As production winds down, the cast and crew vote on East High's Best Hair, Most Dependable, Best Couple, and more.
As you explore the BD Yearbook, you'll encounter wildcat paws on various images. These easter eggs will pull up additional behind the scenes vignettes. There's a lot of redundancy in the design, so be prepared to get frustrated.
BD-Live functionality is not available until street date, so I can only list what is supposed to be included:
My Pages -- Allows you the opportunity to embed your own photos in the yearbook.
Movie Chat -- Talk online with friends while watching the film.
Movie Challenge -- Test your East High knowledge.
Movie Mail -- Create personalized video messages to send friends and family.
Movie Rewards -- Redeem Disney Rewards points for merchandise and exclusive content.
I've been a musical theatre kid since birth, so I get the appeal and the buzz derived from these films. I only wish the producers would take time to develop solid stories upon which to place their great music and inspired choreography. History is littered with musicals that failed miserably, and while High School Musical isn't likely to meet that fate, it never truly lived up to its potential. Most people could care less and write this all off as cheap Disney entertainment. For me, it's a disappointment.
Guilty, but only because I want it all.
Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy