Director: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel, Monique Coleman, Olesya Rulin
Plot: When basketball star player, Troy (Efron) falls for bookworm Gabriella (Hudgens), he is tempted to audition for the musical to win her heart, despite his sport commitments.
High School Musical summarises its ham-fistedness in the first two scenes. Vanessa Hudgens is pushed by her mother into putting down a book and joining in a New Year’s Party. In the very next scene, Zac Efron and his coach father talk about sports and how great basketball is. These two moments are the extent of characterisation director Kenny Ortega is willing to put into his script. The story isn’t much better, going from cliché to cliché with reckless abandonment.
The issue with High School Musical is that it never escapes the feeling of being Disney Channel 101. All of the traits are in there, as if the writers were playing Disney channel bingo while coming up with the screenplay. The truth is more likely along the lines that a few scenes were mandatory here and the rest of the story fell into place as the process went along. There needed to be a clear divide between jocks and nerds. The story needed to revolve around a musical to cram in some catchy musical numbers. And the ending needed to be a big encore where all of the cast put aside their differences to sing their hearts out together. Everything else is simply on auto-pilot or being made up as it goes along. The opening is so coldly stolen from Grease that we had to check John Travolta wasn’t lying down in a ditch somewhere after being knocked over the head with a heavy object: popular boy, Troy, meets a pretty girl, Gabriella, over the holidays, but he loses contact with her. Then she enrols in his school the following term. A bunch of scenes that only vaguely make sense follow where Troy and Gabriella accidentally audition for the school musical. The problem is that this puts Gabriella into the war path of drama queen and queen bee, Sharpay, who is used to walking into an audition room and leaving with the lead part. Troy also has to keep his new love for drama secret from his basketball team, who wouldn’t understand his fascination with singing on stage and would worry that this new hobby would distract him from the most important basketball game of the year. Admittedly any film can sound naff when condensed to a few short sentences by a snarky critic, but High School Musical suffers that its story is told with cardboard characters and speech bubble dialogue. Ashley Tisdale’s villain prances around the school with a faux-friendly smile. Monique Coleman confuses smart girl avoiding jock boys for smarmy know-it-all. As friendships need to be chosen over relationships and the film lazily questions if you have to stick to a certain clique in high school, you simply don’t care enough to stick with the story.
Some would argue the music saves it, but if you aren’t a teenager, then the songs will do little for the viewers. The issue is that they feel so manufactured by the Disney machine. There are no surprises in store for the viewer, especially as the songs feel particularly story-driven. Break down the lyrics and there is nothing deeper than the current circumstances. High School Musical is taken at face value and little more. Other efforts simply feel particularly soppy. While none of the cast could be described as bad singers, their voices aren’t particularly interesting either. This is typical with Disney – everyone hitting the notes, but the singers never attack the song with too much creativity or imagination. Perhaps this is a purposeful move given the film’s title: it does feel like a musical a parent might be forced to visit to support their children in high school. It is also frustratingly safe for work. I am not saying that High School Musical is in need of more sex and violence to impress an audience, but it needs something more than its tepid romance plots and lack of chemistry between any of the actors. Even more criminally, this movie was probably built around this music numbers, hinting that at least a few of them should be half decent. They are not. The most criminal musical number – a tricky decision to make – is the encore, simply because everyone throws aside their character arcs to take part. The prissy smart girl dates a basketball player. The high school queen decides to befriend her rivals as soon as she loses the lead role to them. Again, characterisation seems non-existent for the writers of High School Musical.
Final Verdict: A lazy waste of time. What’s worse? This is the start of a trilogy.