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Review

‘High School Musical 3’ same old song and dance

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October 30, 2008

At the heart of it all, films are intended to elicit a reaction, good or bad, emotional or physical, something needs to happen to the viewer on a deeper level. In that respect, “High School Musical 3” works to perfection – as it played out, I felt myself dying inside.

That’s not to say “HSM3” is a bad film—wait, scratch that, it absolutely is – but it at least has good intentions. As the all-too-clever sub-title of ‘Senior Year’ states, this final installment (and first to the big screen) of Disney’s sing-along trilogy chronicles the final year that Troy, Gabriella and the rest of the Wildcat gang spend at East High together. As Sharpay plots to usurp the spotlight during the spring musical, Troy and Gabriella must deal with the separation anxiety of leaving each other behind in favor of a world in which their classmates are not choreographically trained singers and dancers, a world in which poor life choices and social missteps are not solved by a snappy song & dance: college.

The film opens on a familiar basketball-themed note, and from there reuses the same plot devices, back-beats and even characterization as the first two installments. Every song I listened to rang with a familiar clarity, the kind of feeling you get when slipping on hand-me-down clothes for the first time. And that is exactly what “HSM3” is: a hand-me-down movie masquerading as a Hollywood film.

As if expecting droves of new audience members, director Kenny Ortega ignores his existing fan base by, for a third time in a row, starting from scratch with each character. As is expected in any Disney sermon, “HSM 1 & 2” each closed with the obligatory moralization, life lessons aimed squarely at the fledging youth toe-tapping along to the Disney World order. But these ethics are continually forgotten, erased by the scrolling marquee of the credits, packed neatly away in the subconscious of each stick figure cast member, waiting patiently to be rediscovered. By now, watching Troy’s teammates discover that there is relevance in musical theater, and seeing Sharpay finally learn all she should have learned in kindergarten, is wearing a little thin.

And who gave this flick the right to such a narcissistic finale? In true egotistical fashion, the last number is a numbingly obtuse argument for self-righteousness-a song whose chorus sings “All the songs that we lived through, the best of times! So why leave them behind? Why can’t the rest of my life be like high school musical… the best part we’ve ever known.”?

Now that “HSM” has climbed beyond the mere made-for-TV and joined the ranks of the theatrically released elite, it has to play ball on a whole new level. Although it stands head-and-shoulders above its two predecessors, it attempts to present an emotional story totally irrelevant to its main demographic. Children can’t relate to a story about leaving the comforts of friends and family, about discovering who you are in the face of immense pressure to be who they want you to be. In too many ways, “HSM3” is an adult expose caged within children’s propaganda.

But while this shallow and vain attempt at real world drama doesn’t near compare to other films exploring the same social issues, fans of the franchise are sure to be suckered in once more by the bright colors, impressive choreography and sickeningly sweet lyrics.

Personally, I found myself in shock while walking out of the theater, feeling more than a little exploited by the over the top campy exaggerations of a serious issue. I found myself choking on the cheese, dying inside, a casualty in the Disney Revolution.

1 1/2 stars

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.