Thursday, April 25, 2013

Movie Review: High School Musical 3 - Senior Year

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good songs; great choreography
Cons: Weak on story
The Bottom Line:
Pure escapist fare
Just like original two
Fans of those will love

"We'll Call It Senior Year."  "Genius."

It all started with a made for TV movie.  After High School Musical proved to be a huge hit, it spawned a made for TV sequel, soundtracks, stage shows, ice shows, and a reality TV show (yes, it was pretty bad, but yes, I watched every episode.)  Now the franchise moves to the big screen with High School Musical 3: Senior Year.  With the built in fan base (pre-teen girls) and the wildly popular Zac Efron as the main character, everyone expected it to hit it big.  But the question is, is it any good?  For this fan, yes, it was.

It's spring, and the Wildcats are facing the last few weeks of their high school career.  Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu) are leading East High's basketball team in another championship game.  But their final minutes of playing basketball are only the first of the many finals they will face.

And as our characters face saying goodbye, they have to start dealing with the future.  Troy and Chad have been accepted at the local university to play ball.  But Troy isn't sure he wants to.  His girlfriend Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) is going to Stanford.  In fact, she is considering their early admission program, which would mean she would have to leave early.

But it's a chance to do one last show together that truly brings everyone together.  While they prepare a show about their hopes for the future and the pain of saying goodbye, the group finds out that scouts from Julliard are going to be there to consider composer Kelsi (Olesya Rulin), choreographer Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel), star Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale), or Troy for one spot and a scholarship.  Who will get it?  Does Troy want it?  And how will he and Gabriella ever say goodbye?

So I'm just gonna start by shooting down the one complaint about these movies I am sick and tired of hearing.  "They aren't realistic."  Dude, if you want realistic, why are you looking at a musical?  I mean, when was the last time you saw a basketball team sing during the entire second half of a championship game?  And no G rated Disney movie is ever going to be realistic.  That's why I love them!

Okay, I feel better now.

On a serious note, if you've seen the previous movies in the series, you pretty much know what to expect.  This time around, the story felt like an excuse to film some songs with the original cast.  Yes, there is a plot, but it's rather loose with several threads that wind through the piece.  And the entire thing is completely predictable.  Well, there were a couple things I didn't figure out on my own, but I should have seen them coming.

More than the other two, this movie is about the songs.  Almost every one was a show stopping number, some of them with multiple locations and costume changes.  So if you love an old fashioned musical, you won't be disappointed.  The songs aren't quite up to par with the previous movies, but they are still toe tapping numbers.  And the choreography truly was spectacular.  I especially loved the number in the junkyard.

Since the plan is for the original cast to fade away (although they did set things up for one of them to come back for future installments), we are saying goodbye to these characters as well.  That made the ending of the film very bittersweet for me.  Yes, I will confess I teared up a few times.

And it was nice to see Troy not behave like a complete idiot this time around when it came to his relationship with Gabriella.

As much as I loved this movie, there were some things I didn't like.  First, the story really felt watered down in favor of the songs.  Yes, this is a musical.  But it needed more story.  I wouldn't have minded them adding another twenty minutes to the film in order to expand on it.

While the six main characters got their fair share of screen time, once again, the supporting characters got short shifted.  Heck, those twenty minutes would have given them a bit more time to shine.

Frankly, too much time was spent on Troy and Gabriella's romance.  Yes, it's been at the heart of all the movies.  But it dominated with the two of them getting at least three love duets.  Again, cutting one of those would have helped with my other issues.

Then there's the new cast.  Three sophomores were introduced with the idea being to make them into the leads of the next movie in the franchise.  I just didn't connect with the new characters at all.  Yes, I'll give them a chance as the leads, but I won't be nearly as excited as I was about this movie.  Hopefully they'll be better developed as main characters so I will actually care about them.

And we can't forget the cheese.  Granted, that's been a constant throughout the entire series.  But the "graduation" scene seemed especially bad to me.  Seems like they could have given us that information is a better way.

Despite the flaws, I would rate this somewhere between the first and second installments.  I seriously doubt they will ever capture the magic of the first one again, but I think this one is stronger than the second installment.

And a word of warning.  This movie assumes you've seen the first two.  There are several funny moments and references you'll miss if you haven't seen them.  Frankly, I doubt you'd like it if you aren't already invested in the characters.  So watch them in order.  You'll be glad you did.

And so, the original cast of the High School Musical franchise fades into the sunset (until the inevitable High School Reunion Musical in another 10 years.)  High School Musical 3: Senior Year will please the fans that have made these films so successful.  And ultimately, isn't that what it's all about?

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