Judge Bill Gibron always thought a "sharpay" was a dog...and he was right.
Broadway is a dog eat dog eat diva place…
High School Musical continues to be a plague, post-Glee and all. It remains a redolent bit of mass tween hysteria, convincing everyone in the money business of show that actors like Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Tisdale are bankable career performers. While the rest of the world wonders how wrong these MBA whiz kids can be, the public is forced to endure every irritating entertainment vehicle the studios throw at these unproven youngsters. While Efron seems destined to perhaps survive, Hudgens is clearly lost in the badness of Beastly and Bandslam. And then there's the artist still known as Sharpay Evans. Even with record contracts independent of the House of Mouse and a look that suggests a less stupid Heidi Montag, it appears that Ms. Tisdale has to rely on the Wonderful World of Disney to maintain some manner of career arc. The latest example is Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure, which is really nothing more than 42nd Street by way of celebutantes and a visit to the local ASPCA. It's an innocuous endeavor, aimed at the hysterical 12 year old girl mindset and hoping to turn a pampered antagonistic priss into a likable lead. It almost works. Almost.
Facts of the Case
After yet another successful local showcase of her always awe-inspiring talents, recent high school (musical) grad Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale, Aliens in the Attic) is approached by a New York casting agent. He's in town with friends and feels what he has seen is perfect for the Great White Way. One merry montage later and our heroine has convinced her wealthy, doting daddy that she can make it in Manhattan on her own. Mommy, on the other hand, wants an NYU film school student friend of the family to look after her in the city. One apartment scofflaw later and Sharpay runs into Peyton (Austin Butler, Zoey 101) who shows her the Big Apple ropes. Upon arriving at her audition, she learns it's not for her, but for her pet Yorkie Boi. Yep, it's the pooch that the production is interested in—and even he is facing stiff competition from another dog owned by a conniving 12-year-old named Roger (Bradley Steven Perry,Good Luck Charlie). Of course, it is up to the star of the show, the uber-popular Amber Lee (Cameron Goodman, The Informers) to make the final decision, and Sharpay will do anything to sway her opinion—including becoming her personal assistant/slave.
Here's a gallon of glad tiding to screenwriter Robert Horn. A '90s spent churning out scripts for Designing Women and Living Single has prepared him to provide this otherwise feather-light production with some wonderfully witty dialogue. Sure, the story is as old as Cher's bustier in Burlesque, but at least there's a clever, self-referential quality to what's going on here. Indeed, without the snappy banter, Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure would be one giant joke—and not in a good way. This otherwise pat piece of saccharine fluff is so forgettable, so superficial in its generic pop single song stylings that you'll wonder where the bland white label with the word "MOVIE" printed on it is. Like most product derived from Disney's patented TV-to-cinema production line, there are no risks taken, no real character or narrative development. The occasionally peppery verbiage aside, the film lives in a vacuous void so deep and dark that it actually negates the luminescence properties of sunlight.
Granted, Tisdale is good, if getting a bit long in the post-teen tooth to be this brain-deadly pert. In her pink wardrobe and deer-in-headlights facade, she's like the soccer mom who thinks she should be dating her daughter's cast-offs. It's not a question of age, even. Tisdale has been a performer since she was 12, and the many years in the industry show all over her jaded, Love's Baby Soft cheekbones. She is made and manufactured for the inert nu-media, not required to be particularly good at any one entertainment skill as long as she can look fantastic faking it. By turning Sharpay from a spoiled brat to a wannabe theatrical diva with a decent heart, the filmmakers flummox everything that made her work in High School Musical so…memorable? Indeed, we often wonder if this is the same conniving witch who made Troy and Gabriella's life so miserable.
There's not much to keep the over-13 mind alert and attentive. The songs—from the sure-sounds-auto-tuned opener "Gonna Shine" to the limp cover of "Walking on Sunshine"—scream of a watered down, weak-willed idea of music. Similarly, the supposed showtunes employed ("My Boi and Me," "New York's Best Kept Secret") sound like outtakes from that unqualified hit Hackwork: The Nameless In House Composer Story. Like pieces of a puzzle without any real challenge, the plot points of Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure keep falling into place. First she loses the penthouse, then ends up in a funky loft. First Boi is all the producers want, then Sharpay has to save the day. As for the romance, Austin Butler has his work cut out for him. The movie never tries to establish him as anything but a great guy—no dimension, no independent thought or attitude, just major league crush material that gets his perfect-smile panties in a bunch once before agree to be Sharpay's squeeze a couple of scenes later. Even the supposed villainess, Amber Lee, is bad because she is mean without really needing to be. Huh?
Since it sails by without leaving a stain or a sick taste in your mouth, Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure should earn a pass with easy-to-please parents. Sure, it may teach your child to be a whining, witless materialistic little pain in the buttock, but doesn't everything in 2011? There's no bad language, bad messages, or bad motivation—just bad everything else. Tisdale is fine, so are her fellow paycheck cashers, and the sun will still come up tomorrow even after such an apocalyptically lame excuse for enjoyment.
At least the Blu-ray release looks good—clean and bright with lots of dazzling colors and somewhere subbing for New York ambience. The 1080p AVC encode lets the shiny new 1.78:1 image sparkle. You can even see the tiniest indication of crow's feet around our leads 20-something eyes. As for the sound situation, get ready. Shamelessly bad tunes have never sounded so hopeless as they do in big and bombastic lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. The dialogue is easy to understand. The rest of the sonic situation is spread out among the various channels, with limited results. As for added content, you get a DVD version of the film, as well as a collection of Bloopers, a few scenes taken with the "Austin Cam," and a Evolution of Sharpay featurette that describes the character's transformation from baddie to Broadway baby. Yippie.
Don't worry…sometime in the next five years, the craving for instant nostalgia as well as the fading fortunes of Efron and the gang will guarantee there be a High School Musical: The Post-Graduation Years feature. Mickey's men will make it happen, even if the since-grown members of the proposed demo have moved on to eating disorders and endless episodes of Bravo's The Real Housewives. Cashing in is not the same as selling out. The latter requires a level of artistic ethics that the singing and dancing Disney Devil spawn never had. Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure is just another blatant attempt to fool the family film audience into supporting anything other than real quality. It's not awful. It's not M. Night Shyamalan circa The Happening bad. It's just not trying. It's too safe. Even with the occasionally well crafted line, this is a title with limited appeal. If you've reached puberty, you're already way too old for such foolishness.
Guilty, but the little girls understand, right?
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