- Released Internationally on 22/10/08
- Released in Malta by KRS on 24/10/08
In a nutshell
Judging from the title, you might think that this film is simply a musical, set in a high-school, and that there were two other similar films that came before it. And you'd be right.
What about 1 and 2?
Even the most avid-cinema goer can be excused for missing out on this film's predecessors, because the first two installments of this explosive franchise were made for TV, and then went straight to DVD. Back in 2006 Disney launched the first High School Musical film on their Disney Channel, and it was an instant success on both sides of the Atlantic. The tale of young love amidst high-school feuds spawned massive DVD, soundtrack, game, book and even theatre sales, and like most succesful things nowadays, a sequel soon followed. Needless to say, the sequel was even more successful, and the teenage stars were thrust into the spotlight. As testimony to the exponential success of the franchise, Disney opted to give this third film a theatrical launch, rather than a TV run, and we can expect to be seeing HSM merchandise everywhere very soon.
But what about plot?
Don't worry if you've missed the previous two - this sort of film doesn't need a Usual Suspects-type plot, and you're guaranteed to know exactly what's going on even if you're meeting these young stars for the first time. As expected, there's lots of pubescent romance in the air, and this being their senior year, the students are also plagued with the tough decision about which university to go to, if they're accepted. This might be an alien concept for us Maltese, but we've watched enough American Pie and Saved by the Bell to know how the system works.
Is Grease still the word?
Inevitably, this franchise will be compared to the numerous classic college musicals that came before it, but to be fair the filmmakers don't seem keen on trying to do anything too new - they're just repackaging a winning formula for today's teenagers. And it evidently works. We might all know the lyrics to the Grease songs, but I doubt too many of today's teenagers have seen the actual film. So maybe this will be a good introduction to the world of musicals, and they can then go dig up the old VHSs in their parents' cupboards.
The songs are proving to be one of the film's main selling points, but to my ears they don't have the memorable class of other respected musicals, and I could only hum one or two of the tunes once the credits finished rolling. And the pop beats often sound a bit out of place when characters are bursting into song on rooftops and in treehouses. Many of the characters come acorss as two-dimensional stereotypes, but I guess that can be forgiven since what we're being offered here is a fun showcase of song and dance, with little else.
As a show, the film excels. From the first to the last number, one can clearly see that the focus is on making each musical number a wonderfully choreographed tableau of colour and movement. The actors are wonderful, and one can only wonder what an exhaustive selection process Disney must have been through to find this bunch of fresh-faced singers and dancers. The rooftop sequence and the junkyard number stand out for their style and inventiveness respectively, and there are also a number of large-scale Bob Fosse-style numbers for cabaret lovers. Whether they're dancing with basketballs or paying homage to films they're only just old enough to see, these entertainers make sure the colour and fun runs throughout the film's entire duration. With regards to what Disney is presenting to it's viewers, one can't help but commend the good clean fun this film represents. Parents can rest assured that these dance-crazy students don't smoke, don't drink, don't swear, don't go beyond kissing, and yet they have a great time. So maybe we've reached a point where we need more films like these to show our children.
Who's in it?
Kenny Ortega, the hugely experienced and talented choreographer who oversaw the first two films, returns as director and choreographer for the third. With films like Dirty Dancing, and shows for artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna under his belt, this showman is largely responsible for Disney's recent domination of the teen market, also due to his recent Hannah Montana tour. The two main actors are Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron (who looks uncannily like our very own Fabrizio Faniello), and they're accompanied by a host of other talented youngsters, including the show-stealing Lucas Grabeel.
In the end
I can fully understand how children and teenagers would gobble this franchise up, and these young stars are destined to be plastered on bedroom walls for years to come. As a film, the plot and characters are simple, but as a visual feast the musical numbers are extremely well done. I doubt anyone will be singing these songs in 20 years time, but I for one had a reasonably fun time watching them.