The High School Musical Series
High School Musical (May 19/06)
That High School Musical has been crafted to appeal solely to young girls is obvious almost immediately, and while it seems fairly clear that they'll thrill to the antics of the film's broad characters, there's really not a whole lot here to hold the interest of most other viewers. True to its title, the movie is a flat-out musical set within the halls of a typical American high school - albeit one where students often spontaneously break out into song. The story revolves around jock Troy (Zac Efron) and brain Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), both of whom have an obvious penchant for singing but are afraid to audition for the school musical for fear of alienating their friends (ie Troy's basketball teammates). Director Kenny Ortega apes the look and feel of an old-fashioned musical, infusing the film with a distinctly larger-than-life vibe - something that's particularly true of the manner in which the characters relate to each other (think Grease, except with far less interesting actors). And although the movie is mindlessly engaging for a while, the whole thing ultimately becomes so overwhelmingly silly and juvenile, it's difficult to imagine even the most die-hard fan of musicals finding anything here worth embracing.
High School Musical 2
Though undoubtedly a marginal improvement over its thoroughly mediocre predecessor, High School Musical 2 nevertheless possesses few elements designed to capture (and hold) viewers over a certain age. This is despite an affable opening half hour that's surprisingly engaging, as the central characters - including Zac Efron's Troy, Vanessa Hudgens' Gabriella, and Ashley Tisdale's Sharpay - celebrate the end of the school year with a series of increasingly energetic musical numbers. It's only as the action shifts to the country club where Troy and company have decided to spend their summer that one's interest slowly-but-surely starts to wane, with the inclusion of several eye-rollingly hoary plot developments proving instrumental in the film's ultimate downfall. This is especially true of the whole Sharpay-engineers-Troy's-ascent-within-the-club subplot, as it invariably triggers a number of woefully melodramatic interludes and confrontations (ie Troy's success effectively alienates him from his friends and leads to a fake break-up with Gabriella). And while it does go without saying that young girls will find plenty here worth embracing, High School Musical 2's relentlessly superficial modus operandi ensures that it (and its forebearer) hardly reflects the best that the musical genre has to offer.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Though clearly the most cinematic of the series, High School Musical 3: Senior Year suffers from precisely the same sort of problems that plagued its two underwhelming predecessors - with the trite storyline and hopelessly overlong running time ranking at the top of the film's list of deficiencies. True to its title, the movie follows the various students at East High as they prepare for their impending graduation and revolves primarily around Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella's (Vanessa Hudgens) indecision regarding their respective futures. Director Kenny Ortega - working from Peter Barsocchini's screenplay - has infused the majority of the movie's musical sequences with a distinctly stagy sensibility that ultimately proves oppressive, as there's simply no overlooking the filmed-play atmosphere that comes to dominate the opening hour. And while there are a few exceptions to this - ie a surprisingly dark number in which Troy angrily weighs his options - High School Musical 3: Senior Year is primarily dominated by interludes that seem to have emerged directly from a theatrical staging of the material. The relentlessly superficial atmosphere only exacerbates the movie's various problems, with the affable work of the various performers - Efron is especially good here - slowly-but-surely rendered moot by the egregious emphasis on lightheartedness. To be fair, Barsocchini does inject the proceedings with desperately-needed instances of depth towards the almost melancholic conclusion - yet this hardly proves effective enough to lift the movie out of its unmistakable doldrums. The end result is a trilogy capper that matches its predecessors in terms of quality, thus ensuring that High School Musical fans will find as much here to embrace as detractors will find to dislike.
Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure
The High School Musical series returns to its small screen origins with Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure, which follows periphery character Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) as she leaves her hometown of Albuquerque for the bright lights of New York City - where she hopes to make it as an actress on Broadway. Upon arriving at her first audition, however, Sharpay is horrified to discover that the producers are more interested in her dog, Boi, than her - which effectively forces the character to hang around in the hopes that her adorable pup will eventually get the role. (There's also a subplot revolving around Sharpay's tentative romance with a scrappy local, Austin Butler's Peyton Leverett.) There's little doubt that Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure gets off to a nigh disastrous start, as director Michael Lembeck, working from Robert Horn's script, opens the proceedings with a bland and surprisingly low-rent musical number that immediately establishes an underwhelming atmosphere. The movie subsequently segues into a familiar story of a small town girl attempting to conquer the big city, which would be fine if Lembeck and Horn hadn't bogged the narrative down with elements of a decidedly (and eye-rollingly) adolescent variety - with the dumbed down vibe exacerbated by Horn's tendency to hit every single note that one might have anticipated (eg Sharpay discovers that her hero is a jerk, Sharpay learns that friendship is more important than success, etc, etc). By the time the almost unreasonably upbeat finale rolls around, Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure has definitively established itself as a bottom-of-the-barrel endeavor that's destined to test the patience of even the hardiest of High School Musical fans.