High School Musical

(2006) ** 1/2 G
98 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Kenny Ortega. Cast: Zac Efron, Ashley Tisdale, Vanessa Hudgens, Corbin Bleu.

/content/films/3339/1.jpgThe success of the Disney Channel TV movie High School Musical took everyone by surprise. Sure, it was likely to be a worthwhile investment for the cable channel, but no one could have anticipated its runaway success. For a reported budget of $4.2 million, the TV movie had brought in well over $100 million in profits by the six-month mark following its premiere, and was branching out to 100 countries. The tween love (expressed in dollars) rolled in from record-breaking ratings, the best-selling album of 2006, best-selling DVD editions (two of 'em), at least three sequels and an Argentinian spinoff, concert tours and ice shows that still draw crowds, a stage version, a book series, six videogames, a reality series, and countless promotional tie-ins. In all, the movie has been seen by more than 255 million viewers in more than 20 languages across 100 countries. There's no denying the grade-school audience was hungering for this movie, without even knowing it.

The movie begins on New Year's Eve at a ski lodge, where the puppyish leads meet cute. Thrust into the same spotlight at a karaoke party, the bookish Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and jock Troy Bolton discover they have something in common: a hidden talent (and a secret desire) for singing in front of an audience. Gabriella draws strength from her single mom (Socorro Herrera); Troy has two parents but is stuck like glue to his driven b-ball coach dad (Bart Johnson). Back home at Albuquerque, New Mexico's East High School, Troy is pleasantly surprised and simultaneously dismayed to discover that Gabriella has transferred into his class. Though his reputation rides on keeping his urge to sing a secret, Troy can neither keep himself away from the girl who knows his secret nor keep himself away from the school theater, where out-of-it drama teacher Ms. Darbus maintains, "Proximity to the arts is cleansing for the soul."

Each emboldened by the other, Troy and Gabriella both try out for Darbus' annual musicale (this year: "Twinkle Town"), a choice that threatens to send the world of scheming East High drama-club diva Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) into a tailspin. Her sunny brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel)--with whom Sharpay somewhat reluctantly shares the stage in creepily incestuous audition pieces and production numbers--isn't as bothered, but then he isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the scene shop. The pressure builds, with Troy's dad eyeing the scholarship prize for his son/star player, and the young lovers attempting to have the best of both worlds with the skeptical scholastic decathlon team and basketball team getting wise and plotting to undermine their teammates' dramatic distractions. Will Troy and Gabriella be able to stay true to themselves? Did Mickey's dad have an old barn? Could Judy's mom sew costumes? (Yes, kids.)

Efron and Hudgens are certainly in the Rooney-Garland, Donahue-Dee, Travolta-Newton John mold. Supported by catchy songs and dynamic dances, the shiny, peppy duo hit the right notes (though baritone Efron's singing parts are here almost entirely dubbed by tenor Drew Seeley, unlike in the sequels). Troy's basketball buddy Chad (Corbin Bleu) complains, "The music in those shows isn't hip-hop, okay, or rock, or anything essential to culture. It's, like, show music." In point of fact, the theatricality of High School Musical makes huge concessions to the American Idol generation, even in the parodic, cheesily vigorous numbers by Sharpay and Ryan (complete with bedazzled mic, jazz squares and jazz hands). If High School Musical had a little bit more faith in movie musical traditions, it might have been a classic rather than a guilty pleasure: as it is, the squeaky-clean, processed pop arrangements are more suitable to Disney Radio than the stage or screen. Still, the direction by Ortega (who also helmed Newsies for Disney) and the choreography by Ortega, Charles Klapow and Bonnie Story are plucky and energetic, from the basketball-enhanced "Get'cha Head in the Game" to the Grease-esque cafeteria-set chorus number "Stick to the Status Quo."

Speaking of pluck, even with a basketball team on the way to the championships, the East High Wildcats have unnaturally high "school spirit." It's a key component of the "when you wish upon a high school" tween fantasy (and why actual high schoolers look back and scoff). At its core, High School Musical is about defying stereotypes and busting gender roles. Chad tells Troy, "You're a hoops dude, not a musical singer person." But Troy wants to know, "Did you ever think maybe I could be both?" Another of Troy's teammates, Chris Warren Jr.'s Zeke, comes out as a baker, and the endgame involves the unity of the cliques: "jocks" and "nerds," skaters and cheerleaders. To underline the point, screenwriter Peter Barsocchini includes a Romeo and Juliet (er, West Side Story?) balcony scene for "jock" Troy and "Einsteinette" Gabriella.

/content/films/3339/2.jpgThe sweet sentiment that love is never having to be anyone but yourself--not so obvious to tweens and teens, much less adults--partly explains the High School Musical phenomenon. The clincher is the movie's TV-G wholesomeness: all cheering, no leering, and no problems more complicated than the triple-booking of musicale callbacks, the academic decathlon, and the basketball championship. How chaste is it? The movie teases but doesn't deliver a kiss, saving a little something for the sequel. When the karaoke emcee tells Troy and Gabriella, "Someday you guys might thank me for this," he had no idea how right he was. Hudgens and Efron are for all intents and purposes 21st century Mouseketeers, team players about to trade up to million-dollar paydays.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 2/17/2009

Distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

In its Blu-ray debut, High School Musical ("Remix") appears for the first time in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Even setting aside that innovation, the picture quality has got to be the best yet for this title: it's bright, tight, crisp and clean, with vibrant color and excellent detail. Every ounce of processed pop gets its full due and more from the uncompressed 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack options. The feature also comes with a "Sing Along with the Movie" option, a.k.a. subtitles for the songs.

All of the DVD bonus features are dutifully ported over to Blu-ray. The Music & More section includes the "'I Can't Take My Eyes Off of You' Music Video" (3:00, SD) with Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel and the "'We're All In This Together' Music Video" (1:32, SD). The "'Breaking Free - Remix' Music Video" (3:08, SD), with Efron and Hudgens, includes rehearsal footage, as does the "'We're All In This Together - Remix' Music Video" (3:59, SD), with Efron, Hudgens, Tisdale and Grabeel. Lastly, the Spanish-language "'Eres Tu' Music Video" (2:12, SD) by Belanova includes dubbed clips from the movie!

Backstage Disney kicks off with "Bringing It All Together: The Making of High School Musical" (8:45, SD), a featurette with behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage, and interviews with Efron, Hudgens, Corbin Bleu, Tisdale, Grabeel, Monique Coleman, director/choreographer Kenny Ortega, associate choreographers Bonnie Story and Charles Klapow, and basketball technical director Rob Lafallet.

"Learning the Moves" (4:07, SD) shows Ortega, Story, Klapow, Tisdale and Grabeel in "rehearsal" for "Bop to the Top, followed by a brief tutorial in the moves. Eighteen seconds of the featurette use the mult-angle feature, offering "close-up of rehearsal," "wide angle of rehearsal," and "final film"--or you can view all three at the same time.

"Live at the Hollywood Premiere" (2:23, SD) includes red-carpet interview clips of Efron, Hudgens, Grabeel, Tisdale, Monique Coleman, Chris Warren, Jr., Bart Johnson, Sabrina Bryan of Cheetah Girls 2, Miley Cyrus, Kim Rhodes of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Jason Earles of Hannah Montana, American Idol contestant Brett "Ace" Young, and Marilu Henner.

"A High School Musical Reunion" (5:54, SD) features the cast on their world personal appearance tour, sitting for a group interview, and in clips from previous Disney Channel appearances and on shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Today Show and The Teen Choice Awards. On hand are Efron, Hudgens, Bleu, Tisdale, Grabeel, and Coleman.

"Disney Channel Dance-Alongs ('Get'cha Head in the Game' and 'We're All in This Together')" (16:36, SD) teach kids how to move it, HSM-style. Efron teaches the first dance, Grabeel teaches the first part of "We're All in This Together," Tisdale coaches the "Wildcat Breakdown" section of the same, and Hudgens plays along with the whole thing.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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