High School Musical 3: Senior Year (3 Stars)

Movie Review by Tasha Robinson


Zac Efron as Troy-Bolton & Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez star in High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Zac Efron & Vanessa Hudgens

The "High School Musical" series isn't aimed at high schoolers, who presumably know by now that grades 9 through 12 aren't actually a candy-coated wonderland.

It's more aimed at preteens who are still willing to bet high school will be the best thing ever. With those kids firmly in mind, the movies are achingly wholesome, set in a preposterously shiny world where everything looks if it were freshly painted within the last five minutes.

The entire franchise is designed to accessorize with the shiniest lip gloss and the sparkliest pink nail polish.

Fortunately for series director Kenny Ortega, there are a lot of adolescent girls in the world. The first two "High School Musical" movies, made for TV's Disney Channel, broke cable viewership records.

The first film's soundtrack was 2006's top-selling record. The movies have spawned a touring concert, an ice show, a series of video games and young-adult novels, a reality show spin-off and a stage musical. If "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," the franchise's big-screen debut, comes anywhere close to the 18 million-plus viewership of "High School Musical 2's" cable debut, it could rival the year's other opening-weekend box-office records. Ortega and company could have a hit on their hands just for showing up.

Instead, they rise to the theatrical-release challenge by expanding the dance numbers while minimizing the drama. The core cast from the first two musicals is back, and now they're all seniors, coming to terms with the possibility of graduation. (Actually, the guarantee of graduation, because their idealized version of school lacks classes and grades; it's all lunchrooms, basketball courts and extracurricular fun.) Sweethearts Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) continue their sweet, chaste romance but face separation as they head to different colleges. Snob princess Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) is once again scheming to grab Gabriella's part in the big spring musical. The pressures of prom and the big championship game each get a little lip-service and a big musical number, but the problems blur by harmlessly to let the performers move on to the next piece of bouncy pop. Most of the returning cast has little to do but sing, dance and smile.

"Musical 3" is frustratingly shallow, but what it lacks in narrative ambition, it makes up for in dazzling choreography. Ortega set out to channel cinema's musical classics, from "Singing in the Rain" to "Chicago" -- one of this film's bigger numbers, "I Want It All," contains a number of visual winks to those films and others. But his execution is as much Bollywood as Broadway. He crams the screen with spectacular, vivid colors and complicated synchronized movement, making the radio-ready, processed-pop songs distinctly secondary to the dances they inspire.

And in the process, he creates something harmlessly fluffy and fun, a slight but accomplished, entirely agreeable time-waster aimed at the "High School Musical" cultists but unlikely to offend anyone else. It isn't a film so much as a rousing sing-along, clap-along dance party that seems to say, "We made it to the big screen -- now let's just kick back and celebrate." Bring your prettiest pink paper hats, and party on.

MPAA rating: G.

Running time: 1:52.

Starring: Zac Efron (Troy); Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella); Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay); Corbin Bleu (Chad); Lucas Grabeel (Ryan).

Directed by Kenny Ortega; screenplay by Peter Barsocchini; photographed by Daniel Aranyo; edited by Don Brochu; production design by Mark Hofeling; choreography by Ortega, Charles Klapow, Bonnie Story; music by David Lawrence; produced by Bill Borden, Barry Rosenbush. A Walt Disney Pictures release.


About the Movie "High School Musical 3: Senior Year"

Disney's "High School Musical" phenomenon leaps onto the big screen in "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," in which the world's favorite high school students (ZAC EFRON, VANESSA HUDGENS, ASHLEY TISDALE, LUCAS GRABEEL, CORBIN BLEU and MONIQUE COLEMAN) hit senior year. Amidst a basketball champion-ship, prom and a big spring musical featuring all of the Wildcats, Troy and Gabriella vow to make every moment last as their lifelong college dreams put the future of their relationship in question. A crew of sophomore Wildcats (MATT PROKOP, JUSTIN MARTIN, JEMMA MCKENZIE-BROWN) joins in the fun as the film's incredible new music and exciting dance numbers take maximum advantage of the big screen.

Other actors reprising their roles from the first two Disney Channel movies include OLESYA RULIN, CHRIS WARREN JR., RYNE SANBORN, KAYCEE STROH, BART JOHNSON and ALYSON REED.

Walt Disney Pictures presents "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," directed and choreographed by Emmy Award-winning Kenny Ortega. Ortega, who helmed the first two films for Disney Channel, also adds new duties as executive producer. "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" is produced by Bill Borden and Barry Rosenbush; Don Schain serves as co-producer. Peter Barsocchini, veteran HSM writer, penned the screenplay.

Behind-the-scenes talent includes director of photography Daniel Aranyó (Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2," "The Cheetah Girls 2"), production designer Mark Hofeling ("High School Musical," "High School Musical 2," "Minutemen"), editor Don Brochu ("The American Mall," "The Fugitive"), and costume designer Caroline B. Marx ("The Killing Room," TV's "Gilmore Girls"). Director Ortega shares choreographer duties with Charles "Chucky" Klapow and Bonnie Story-the three earned an Outstanding Choreography Emmy for "High School Musical." Composer David Lawrence and music supervisor Steven Vincent also return. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures distributes.


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