It seems unfair for someone not of the tween set to review the Disney Channel production High School Musical, which was released for the second time on DVD in December in a two-disc "remix" edition.
This isn't meant to be taken as bellyaching or bemoaning the difficulties of being a critic; rather, it has to do with intended audience. High School Musical isn't made for someone my age, 25, but instead for someone 15 years younger. And maybe that's the person who should review the movie, since the film is aimed at them.
I was in high school once, but the high school I attended bears no resemblance to the one in the film, East High School, a tweenager utopia of good-lookers and sexpots in training (the student body is so hot, in fact, even the bow-tie-wearing, tape-holding-glasses-together nerds are hulking studs). The two stars of this heavenly house of homework are Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), the school's boytoy basketball prodigy, and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), the new kid with brains and looks.
I also don't recall students singing and dancing down the halls to deal with their problems the way they do in High School Musical. Of course, when I was a wee senior, my problems revolved around college and the "real world"; here, basketball players worry about being found out as secretly enjoying baking and sk8tr punks tip-toe around their enjoyment of playing classical instruments. Judging by how well everyone gets along in the film, maybe I should have tried pirouetting down the hallways to escape being down in the dumps. (I would have probably ended up in the dump.)
Yes, High School Musical sounds a little too out there for an old-timer like myself, and that's even before you start thinking about the plot. Then, things become downright silly.
At a winter break gathering at a Colorado ski resort, another hotspot for hotties, Troy and Gabriella, there with their parents, are partaking in what they enjoy most: tortuously redundant basketball drills for Troy, reading on the down-low for Gabriella.
But when their mothers force them to go have fun on their last night at the lodge — at the kid's party, no less (the horror!) — Troy and Gabriella are picked for couples karaoke. They're both super-shy (despite Troy being super-popular and, allegedly, super-gregarious), but they start to really get into it and, gee whiz wouldn't you know it, they fall for each other's big, dreamy eyes and explosive voices. But, alas, after exchanging numbers and taking pictures with their camera phones, Gabriella retreats into the night leaving Troy alone.
When the school year restarts, Gabriella is starting at a new school in Albuquerque, and, holy cow, Troy's there! After some awkward posturing built around social conventions (the basketball star cannot, under any circumstance, be entangled with the new girl, especially one as nerdy as Gabriella), the two reminisce about how much fun it was singing and get the idea to try out for the school's musical.
Again, those nasty social strictures rear their heads: the basketball star can't jeopardize his team by doing something as fruity as singing and dancing, and the new girl can't just go around asserting herself as the lead of a musical.
Everything works out in the end, of course, despite some pretty awful tricks and ploys hatched by Troy and Gabriella's "friends" in order to keep them apart, break up their chances at being in the musical, and reestablishing the social order in the school.
The film is fueled by mediocre musical numbers, complete with tired dance steps and hokey, overly-simple lyrics. The best example is the one number with the most potential, and therefore the most disappointing in its execution, "Get'cha Head in the Game." The number begins with a chorus of basketballs bouncing up and down off of the hardwood court, followed by players handing the ball back and forth in a moment of choreography inspired by early-'50s Hollywood (especially the gym number in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"). Then the singing starts, which is nothing more than a mind-numbing repetition of "get'cha head in the game" built around hackneyed R&B/pop-lite lyrics. Before and after this moment, the numbers are boring in their derivativity. Only "Get'cha Head in the Game" offers something interesting, but director/choreographer Kenny Ortega sees fit to muck it up and dumb it down.
It's in that dumbing-down that High School Musical poses the biggest problem. The musical numbers aren't the only thing diluted for the pre-teen Disney Channel audience — every aspect of the film, from characters and situations to dialogue and setting, are absolutely, unfathomably unreal. This insidious piece of tween pop is what high school looks like to starry-eyed, Tiger Beat-reading 11-year-old girls as they primp and prep for the move up from junior high.
There's something to be said for glossing over the problems high school poses for so many — cliques, bullies, awkward interactions with the opposite sex — but there's also value in not presenting that same environment as a happy-go-lucky place where people might want to hurt you if they catch you singing and dancing, but all you'll have to do to diffuse that situation is show them how happy singing and dancing makes you.
The Disney Channel chose to ignore a modicum of realism in High School Musical, and with it they marginalized entire groups of people in the process: kids who are awkward, kids who aren't good in school, kids who aren't good at sports, kids with family problems, kids with health problems, kids who look different, kids who act different, and on and on and on. What is being said to the kids who adore this film by rejecting those who look/act/sound different than the pretty faces populating East High? Whatever it is, it can't be good.
But, really, why does any of that matter when those kids can have the "Remix Edition" of High School Musical on DVD? They can watch the film in sparkling visual quality, and listen to it in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, perfect for those weekend slumber parties. And the extras, we can't forget about them. On the two discs are featurette after featurette, and sing-along after sing-along that will get you in the mood to buy every version of the soundtrack that's available, every book, magazine, poster, and God knows what else that's been printed to cash in on the movie's popularity, and, above all, get you really excited about going to the big kids' school. Like, for real!
Certainly, the Disney Channel thought they were creating a film that would teach kids something about empowerment and self-worth in a society that constantly wants to grind those things down. But there is also a rather large issue to deal with: preparing kids to embrace differences in the people around them. The film's last number, "We're All In This Together," deals with this issue, but it does so with people who look, act, talk, and sing and dance the same. Disney can't say "accept everyone" and then reject nearly everyone in the process.
On second thought, perhaps a tween is exactly the wrong person to review High School Musical. Kids are smarter and savvier today than ever, but they still need guidance from those who have lived more. It's an adult's responsibility to impart the right values and messages to kids as they grow up, and weed out accordingly anything that would undercut those values and messages. High School Musical is such a weed, and it should be yanked out before the sequel, High School Musical 2: Sing It All or Nothing! (currently in pre-production, according to the Internet Movie Database) has a chance to take root.Powered by Sidelines