Chief Justice Michael Stailey was born with the music in him.
Our reviews of High School Musical 2: 2-Disc Deluxe Dance Edition (published September 29th, 2008) and High School Musical 2: Extended Edition (Blu-Ray) (published December 22nd, 2007) are also available.
Are you ready for something new?
Apparently, neither are they.
Let me preface this review by stating, for the record, that I did not see the original High School Musical. How I missed it, I have no idea. My goddaughter was nuts for the film and I saw several of the musical numbers recreated in her family's living room, but that's about it. However, I was lucky enough to have Magistrate Melissa Hansen on hand this past weekend to fill in the gaps, as she has seen both the film and the touring stage production, enjoying each. Unfortunately, this one left both of us somewhat flat.
Facts of the Case
East High's summer vacation is only minutes away and the Drama Club students are counting down the seconds. When the bell rings, all heck breaks loose and three full months of party time is underway. Or so they think. While the brother-sister combo of Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale, Donnie Darko) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel, Return to Halloweentown) are plotting another summer of leisure and performing at their family-owned, exclusive Lava Springs resort, Troy (Zac Efron, Hairspray (2007)), Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens, Thirteen) and the rest of the gang are looking for work. Little do they know their plans will converge in a very familiar way, testing friendships, talents, and desires.
There's no arguing the fact that the Disney Channel's High School Musical was a runaway hit, spawning a platinum selling soundtrack, a sold out touring concert (ala American Idol Finalists), said sold out stage adaptation, major event performances at both stateside Disney theme parks, and a tidal wave of associated merchandise. Is anyone surprised a sequel was quickly put into motion?
Our second trip to East High picks up several months after the last ended, capitalizing on every high school kid's dream—the potential summer of a lifetime. The gang is heading into their Senior year, college is on the brain, and the future is bound to change everything. What better time to savor the present? Of course one of our theatrical tweens has more selfish plans afoot. Sharpay has her sights set on Troy and will stop at nothing to get him, destroying pretty much everyone and everything in her path, including her own brother. Sounds like a somewhat unique premise, right? Well, not quite.
Inventive and ambitious director/choreographer Kenny Ortega knows television and knows Broadway, utilizing his experience from both to re-imagine Grease for a new generation. Popular boy meets new geeky girl, falls in love despite all odds, and unites the whole student body in song and dance. The result was High School Musical. With a wealth of source material to draw from, Kenny grabs another fondly remembered teen tale (one he's intimately familiar with) and goes for gold again. This time, it's Dirty Dancing. The Catskills becomes a family owned golf resort in scenic New Mexico. Johnny the hot, hired dance instructor becomes Troy, the hot, vocally gifted dishwasher come junior golf pro. Baby, the innocent, life altering, child of privilege gets diffused into two characters: Gabriella, the innocent love interest; and Ryan, the shunned, talented sibling. Neil, the snotty, obnoxious nephew of the resort's owner becomes Sharpay, the spoiled, annoying daughter of the resort's owner. And the talent show finale becomes, well, the talent show finale. While it's not an identical retelling, there are enough elements and characterizations to make it obvious. Unfortunately, not all pieces fall into place here, as they did in that 1987 classic.
Leads Zac and Vanessa both fall short of the mark in the acting department. Zac's inauthentic mugging and poor line reads make his performance standout (in a bad way) from an otherwise solid ensemble. And Vanessa's sweet, bubbly airhead performance betrays her character's previous incarnation. Puberty must have stolen away about 50 IQ points from the former math genius. And yet her Vanessa Carlton/Michelle Branch insightful vocalizations betray Gabriella's non-factor role in this tale. On the other hand, Ashley and Lucas once again rise to the occasion, with Lucas's Ryan taking center stage as the film's uniter countering Sharpay's divider. This performance shows the Missouri boy has the chops to go far in this business. Ashley, of course, is the next in a long line of modern Disney princesses, following Christy Carlson Romano, Raven, and Miley Cyrus.
While the plot and forced dialogue come across as shallow and relatively inconsequential, the look and sound of High School Musical 2 is what makes it worth watching. As with the first film, the musical numbers take center stage. "I Don't Dance," the sequel's equivalent to "Getcha Head in the Game," steals the show and moves the storyline with Ryan, betrayed by Sharpay in her quest to conquer Troy, joining forces with the staffers to win the resort's annual Talent Contest. "You are the Music in Me," the film's love theme plays double duty becoming corrupted by Sharpay in her second act quest for glory; an interesting juxtaposition, each working equally well. But the inventive choreography of Ortega and company shines through in "Fabulous," Sharpay's Esther Williams inspired ode to…herself; and "What Time is It?" the film's big opening number. The only number that seems out of place is Troy's Footloose-inspired "Bet On It," an emotional masturbatory exercise in solo song and dance that could double as a bad Justin Timberlake music video.
Shot in 1.78:1 widescreen but shown here in 1.33:1 full frame pan-and-scan, Disney shoots itself in the foot by undermining an otherwise beautiful film. Shot against the rich earth tone colors of New Mexico's desert and mountains, cinematographer Daniel Aranyo works magic in tandem with the fantastic primary color scheme infused into the sets and costumes by production designer Mark Hofeling, costume designer Tom McKinley, and set decorator Ken Kirchner. The yellows, greens, blues, and reds pop at every turn in one of the best-looking made-for-TV films you've ever seen. It's a crime most people will never see High School Musical 2 as it was originally intended. However, this release does receive a robust 5.1 surround mix that uses its full spectrum to showcase David Lawrence's infectious underscore and showstopping numbers from Matthew Gerrard, Robbie Nevil, Randy Petersen, Kevin Quinn, Andy Dodd, Adam Watts, Antonio Armato, Tim James, Jamie Houston, and Faye Greenberg.
This single-disc release is a bit thin on bonus materials, which likely means a two-disc edition is forthcoming, though some of what's included is worth exploring. The Bloopers are fun and show off the energy and enthusiasm of Kenny Ortega's set. Speaking of Kenny, his Rehearsal Cam with "Bounce to the Movie" option captures the cast's three week odyssey from rehearsal to performance for each of the show's nine featured numbers. I say nine, because the Extended Edition includes Sharpay and Ryan's original talent contest number, "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a," a comic Hawaiian fairy tale staged to lure Troy to the dark side. With the "Bounce" feature on, this is without a doubt the most valuable of the features. The package is rounded out with US, Mexican, and Canadian music videos for ballads "You Are the Music in Me" and "Gotta Go My Own Way" as sung by native recording artists; a sing-along feature that lets you Karaoke with the cast, with or without lyrics; and a sneak peek at the new 2008 Disney Channel animated series, Phineas and Ferb, starring the voice talents of Ashley Tisdale.
High School Musical is Grease without the drag racing. High School Musical 2 is Dirty Dancing without the abortion. And we can only assume the rumored Halloween-themed High School Musical 3 will be The Rocky Horror Picture Show without the sweet transvestite. That is, if Zac retires those man-pris from the rehearsal footage.
Not Guilty, with a healthy caveat emptor. If you can forgive a thin plot and uninspired performances from the two leads, you may enjoy the music and podiatric mayhem that is High School Musical 2.
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