Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Random TV review - HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 1 & 2

In a totally unexpected move, the Disney Channel has done what most studios would kill for - they've created a bona fide money-spinning franchise. And as this blog is all about following the proverbial phat cash, a review was sure to follow.

The set-up for HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is basically GREASE without the unwanted pregnancy. Troy (Zac Efron) is a cool jock and Gabrielle (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) is a maths geek. By the rules of High School Cliques, established in THE BREAKFAST CLUB, they are destined never to meet. However, by a quirk of movie fate they end up successfully auditioning for their high school musical. In the process, they alienate their respective jock and mathmo friends and severely piss off the incumbent musical leads, Sharpay and Ryan. But, as this is a relentlessly up-beat, optimitistic, feel-good movie, it all works out for the best.

The original movie is surprisingly good fun. The dance numbers (choreographed by director Kenny Ortega) are really well done and the kids are all hugely talented. The story is hokey but the cast members are so earnest you can't help getting involved with it. The production design is all primary colours and bright sunshine, and that's basicslly how you feel when the curtain comes down.

Given the whirlwind success of the original show, Disney was always going to be under pressure to come up with a sequel to justify all that merchandising. The big problem is that the stories tied up neatly at the end of the first installment. So, with everyone already living happily ever after, the screen-writers needed to inject an artificial obstruction for Troy and Gabrielle to over-come. We find ourselves in summer vacation. Rich kids Ryan and Sharpay are staying at their parents' luxurious hotel, which conveniently has an end of summer talent show. The other high school kids take summer jobs in the resort. Sharpay arranges for Troy to be talent spotted by a University sports team. If he turns his back on his friends, he's guaranteed a hefty sports scholarship. Of course, Sharpay is also keen for him to dump Gabrielle and sing with her at the end of summer talent show.

As hokey as the Geeks versus Mathmos storyline was, at least its founded in truth. High School really is cliquey. By contrast, the lines of attrition in High School Musical 2 seemed utterly fake to me. Choosing universities inevitably means parting from some high school friends, but it seems ridiculous to accuse a kid who's taking an opportunity of being treacherous. The movie seemed to have a severe case of tall poppy syndrome. There's also a bitter irony in Troy asking Sharpay whether she just sings for fun rather than for fame! So, the storyline is much weaker in the sequel, but what of the all-important song and dance numbers? I found the songs less catchy than in the original show, but you just can't fault the kids talent and energy. In particular, Lucas Grabeel as Ryan trumps Efron and Hudgens as the stand-out cast member.

Overall, then, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL comes across as a genuinely fun teen romance that could easily have warranted a theatrical release. The sequel is, however, better suited to its DVD release.

The original HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL aired in 2006 and the follow-up aired in 2007. Both are available on DVD.

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