Ten years ago this year, Disney broke the internet and a million pre-teen hearts by introducing us to Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens in a film definitely not based on Grease at all. Dotty Winters has never looked back.
I was forced to watch the High School Musical (HSM) trilogy with my goddaughter* and pitched up reluctantly, expecting to be bored, frustrated and a little bit sick in my mouth.
She was right and I was wrong, and to this day the HSM soundtrack has pride of place in my car stereo for road-diversion emergencies. Disney knew what they were playing at when they launched this almost-definitely-not-a-Grease-remake, set in the high-drama confines of Rydell East High.
High School Musical is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. If I tell you that the plot is about an academically gifted but gorgeous nerd who, following a brief holiday romance, falls for the handsome, popular guy with great moves and hair who is trapped by society’s expectations of him, you’ll instantly see how well Disney definitely didn’t just remake Grease.
But, like the film that for legal reasons this definitely wasn’t based on, incredible set pieces, genuine chemistry and some terrifyingly catchy tunes more than save the day. Also no one needs to wear pleather leggings or take up smoking to get their man, so that’s nice.
A special shout-out is due to the casting department on this film. Zac Efron is what would happen if pre-EE-advert Kevin Bacon had a love child with the concept of Saved By The Bell. Vanessa Hudgens plays a blinder in somehow making Gabriella charming and likeable despite the efforts of the script and wardrobe department.
“The most common criticism that I’ve seen about these films is that they are cheesy. People who think cheesy is a derogatory term should never be allowed to eat macaroni again.”
Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel as Ryan and Sharpay hilariously and accurately skewer everything that we associate with stage-schooled, fame-obsessed teenagers, building on the impressive work done by Clueless. The supporting cast are all pretty faultless; it would be hard to identify any specific weak links.
Songwise, special mentions go to:
• The use of basketballs as percussion in Get’cha Head in the Game, which also worked brilliantly in the live stage version (yes, I saw the theatre version, what of it?)
• Stick to the Status Quo – a very entertaining (and hella-catchy) take on school clique politics and the importance of crème brûleé
• Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (from High School Musical 2) – the most insane (and best) use of whale language in a contemporary musical. Is there an Oscar for that? There should be.
Like many sequels, High School Musical 2 fails to fully live up to the glory of the original, but it’s not so terrible that I don’t still watch it. Increased roles for Ryan and Sharpay Evans and the emergence of Troy’s dark side are enough to make it worth a watch.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year isn’t the greatest moment in the series. It centres on some pretty tough decisions when our hero needs to choose where he goes to college. Gabriella is off to study rocking-a-white-coat-while-dancing and Troy has to choose between competing scholarships in Dimples and Great Hair.
Fear not, by the time you wake from your lovely afternoon nap it’s all sorted and you can have a comforting weep at the finale and at the inevitable break-up one term into college when they all discover beer and proper music.
Saying you dislike cheese is admitting that you prefer things not to be comforting, heart-warming, cheerful and uplifting. In fact, I think we should extend the use of the term cheesy to include other items that would benefit from all of those characteristics, like bras.
The world can be an awful and depressing place; if you want alarming, bleak and terrifyingly unpredictable, may I recommend you watch the news, or Eurovision.
Nothing I can say here is likely to convince you to watch this film; any criticism you can throw at it is likely to be true and justified. But, if you criticise it and write it off without at least trying to sit through it on a blustery afternoon with a warming mug of soup, then I’ll reserve the right to feel a tiny bit sad for you.
Ten years on from the initial release and with ongoing rumours of a HSM4, at any given opportunity you’ll find me snuggled up on the sofa under a pile of cats, reliving the Troy and Gabriella romance in my cheesy bra.
*No names; I am protecting her anonymity. She is way too super-cool to let it slip that she used to be into HSM.
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.