By Brian Orndorf
Presenting a movie like â€œHigh School Musical 3: Senior Yearâ€ to film critics is a bizarre situation. Letâ€™s be real here: nobody who wants to see the feature will care what other people think about it, and most strangers to the â€œHSMâ€ franchise wouldnâ€™t be caught dead watching it. Itâ€™s an either ya do or ya donâ€™t proposition.
Itâ€™s the senior year for the East High Wildcats, and futures beyond high school hallways and lunchroom gossip are being planned. For Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), and Chad (Corbin Bleu), the road to adulthood is complicated, involving painful choices in both life and love. With the year winding down, Gabriella encourages everyone to sign up for the spring musical, putting the kibosh on brat Sharpayâ€™s (Ashley Tisdale) plans to topline her own show, with supplementary help from brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel). With the days ticking away to graduation, the group works out the moves for the big show, while Troy and Gabriella contemplate the concept of college careers away from each other.
I only recently came into the â€œHSMâ€ franchise, and, believe me, it was kicking and screaming. However, what I discovered under the toxic Disney marketing blitz was an exquisitely candied, wholesome series of dance movies, reinforced with exceptional choreography and performances marked by thousand-mile-wide smiles and nimble footwork. The first two Disney Channel â€œHSMâ€ installments were earnest and cheery, qualities that matched their small screen origin wonderfully. Itâ€™s the multiplex for â€œHSMâ€ this time out, for financial and sentimental reasons that make perfect sense. Itâ€™s a pleasure to report that â€œSenior Yearâ€ is a lovely send off for the original cast of the series, giving the core audience exactly what they crave from an â€œHSMâ€ film, only now director/choreographer Kenny Ortega has a few more bucks to spend indulging his glittery imagination.
The upgrades to â€œSenior Yearâ€ are felt immediately, with more intricate lighting schemes around East High and on the stage, sophisticated production numbers for the cast to tumble around in, and the introduction of three new cast members to take over for the inevitable â€œHSM 4.â€ It feels a tad underhanded to pipe in new characters within a film created solely to say good-bye to audience favorites, but thatâ€™s how Disney business struts, baby. Itâ€™s a shame the new Wildcats, Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Brown), Jimmie Zara (Matt Prokop), and Donny Dion (Justin Martin), are exceptionally uncharismatic clones, leaving their scenes a slow death in an otherwise peppy film.
Beyond the new faces, â€œSenior Yearâ€ plays like an amplified version of the previous â€œHSMâ€ films. The songs, while remaining frightfully glossy and generic, reach out a little further to express romantic sentiments and troubled thoughts. The dancing is plunged into with a generous hunger (the Efron/Bleu junkyard sequence for â€œThe Boys Are Backâ€ is a real triumph); Ortega channeling the gods of Berkeley, Fosse, and Kelly to construct intricate foot parades for the camera, with special emphasis on theatrical scenery to reinforce the high school musical atmosphere of â€œHigh School Musicalâ€ (something that was woefully missing from â€œHSM 2â€).
The cast also seems to have their batteries charged to capacity, especially Efron (he of greasy hair and bulging muscles) and Hudgens (she of inviting smiles and virginal hypnosis), who return to the forefront of this final installment with a syrupy relationship arc that puts pressure on the Troy/Gabriella pairing. To college or not to college isnâ€™t a fresh pathway for drama, but â€œSenior Yearâ€ gets surprising mileage out of the difficult choices that face our heroes. Itâ€™s a thoughtful way to break up the hyperactive dancing, even if it isnâ€™t challenged beyond the norm.
Ortega is wise to lead â€œSenior Yearâ€ down familiar roads for the fanatics, showcasing enough electric showmanship, shirtless Efron, and tearful farewells to supply the faithful a sizable reward for their loyalty. All the essentials on are display, just widened and softened a bit for the big screen.
Living in a moronic â€œStep Upâ€ world of drearily sexualized hipster dancing and manufactured anti-establishment attitudes, the skim milk allure of â€œHSMâ€ is appreciated, offering something of a throwback to the sunny day spirit of a Garland/Rooney musical. â€œSenior Yearâ€ has a genuineness about it thatâ€™s wonderful to observe and provides the original cast a platform for a marvelous, bouncy final bow.
Blu-Ray Details and Extras
The audio on this thing blew-me-away! The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is enough to turf every ornament on top of your entertainment unit to the ground! It’s insanely good. In addition, and probably more importantly, the AVC Mpeg-4 encode gives the film a beautiful look – dare I say it even looks better than it did in theaters!? Black levels are occasionally a bit ‘off’, but overall there’s not a blemish on screen – unless, of course, you count the reasonably well-hidden acne on some of the core cast members’ faces.
The “Musical” Blu-Ray actually comes with a DVD too – er, just in case Grandma has purchased it for you but neglected to ask whether you “have one of those new-fangled Blu Disco Rays?”.
Extras – and yes kids, there’s enough here to keep you busy until Zac Efron stars in the inevitable “Saturday Night Fever” remake – include an extended version of the main movie (Sorry, couldn’t tell you what’s new and what’s not); deleted scenes; sing-along (yay!); several featurettes; bloopers (love seeing smug kids fall on their ass!); and music videos.