Since Iâ€™ve watched Disneyâ€™s High School Musical numerous times thanks to my daughterâ€™s obsession with this TV movie, I have been thinking about its impact on her and the other children (ages 4-14) who have made it so popular. There is something very addictive about it because she cannot get enough of the songs, the stars, and the dancing. So what magic formula makes this movie so appealing?
Directed by Kenny Ortega, whose credits as a choreographer include Dirty Dancing, Newsies, Ferris Buellerâ€™s Day Off, and the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Olympics, the movie tells the very timeless tale of Boy Meets Girl. The clever thing about it is the almost seamless way the music is integrated into the action, along with the truly amazing dance numbers, which creates a vibrancy and earnestness that appeals to the senses and the heart.
In many ways High School Musical combines thematic links to Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, but there is no tragedy to be found here. Troy Bolton (played by Zac Efron doing his best David Cassidy impression) and Gabriella Montez (a lovely Vanessa Anne Hudgens who looks like a young Natalie Wood) meet across a crowded room like Juliet and her Romeo while on a family vacation. They are pushed into a karaoke situation where they almost immediately drop their initial shyness and sing their hearts out while exchanging expressions of attraction. This leads to a romantic New Yearâ€™s Eve at midnight countdown, but our (star-crossed?) lovers do not kiss; instead, they stare up into the sky and watch fireworks (which mirrors whatâ€™s happening inside their hearts).
Back in the real world of Albequerque, New Mexico (the movie was actually filmed in Utah), Troy returns to school the conquering hero, beloved by all as the leader of the basketball team and all around good guy. Greeted by Chad (Corbin Bleu), his ersatz Mercutio, Troy is swept back into school by cheerleaders and teammates who are joyous with the notion that their team will win the big game.
Waiting in the wings for Troy are the brother-sister villains Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel), who are no real threat but do provide some conflict in the story. They have starred together in school plays since Kindergarten and control the schoolâ€™s Drama Club, and thus the attentions of teacher/director Mrs. Darbus (played by Alyson Reed with an appropriate over-the-top flair). Sharpay obviously has an attraction to Troy, but his head has already been turned by Gabriela, who just so happens to have registered in East High School that very day.
If youâ€™re expecting dance numbers with opposing gangs like the Sharks and Jets, forget about it; this is a Disney version of high school. Ryan is no Tybalt or Bernado, and there isnâ€™t a chance in the Magic Kingdom that Gabriela will end up like Juliet, nor will she ever have an opportunity to speak Mariaâ€™s (Natalie Wood) immortal line â€śHow do you work this gun, Chino?â€ť No, this is homogenized and pasteurized for our viewing pleasure, and thatâ€™s exactly what the kids like about it. The threats are minimal at best but are there to promote some sort of dynamic that will make their little hearts flutter, because they know that Troy and Gabriela belong together and will be happy despite the obstacles, however miniscule, that are in their way.