With this series of two TV-movies and one cinema feature, Disney gave millions a shiny, perfect world where every surface is clean, every person is beautiful and the deepest problems of the heart could be solved by winning a basketball game.
In 2006, viewers across the globe became loyal fans of one of the biggest movie franchises ever to hit the screen. I must confess that, when the first film was screened on Disney Channel and then BBC One, I wasn’t one of its enthusiastic viewers. I was sceptical about the cutesy way the movie was throwing itself everywhere – from bus stop posters to themed key rings. But, I needn’t have feared, as this is one of the most likable and watchable offerings from Disney for a long while.
The third instalment of this phenomenally successful series is an entirely delightful 112 minutes of clean, slick, well made Disney bliss.
Through stunningly colourful photography we watch the trials of Troy and Gabriella (Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens) as they come to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard they try, they will not always be together. Geographically speaking. They are at that stage of their lives when choosing which University to go to is more paramount than a harmless teen relationship, and they sweetly go through the stages of denial, regret then helplessness. To avoid making this sound more like a Mike Leigh film than what it really is, I probably should mention that these teen problems kept light and brief, and are frequently pushed aside in favour of the syrupy ‘all in this together’-themed songs that have made this series famous.
Of course, cynics and haters of the series have an easy time beating it up. Although issues such as ‘which Uni should I go to?’ are very present, other problems that haunt the corridors of high schools such as teen sex, STIs, drug taking, racism, bullying and eating disorders are never mentioned. Although Troy and Gabriella kiss and flirt, there is never any suggestion they are moments away from ripping their clothes off in order to get down to some heavy bed-pounding. They are content with playing in tree houses and having late-evening picnics. The school these sparkly youths attend looks like an educational version of Disneyland; everywhere almost clinically clean, colourful, with no graffiti or dropped cigarettes in sight.
I do not find this a problem. The film is made for pre-teens that expect nothing more than the good looks of leading man Zac Efron (who is effortlessly charming) and the sweet-voiced eye lid fluttering of Vanessa Hudgens. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s sophisticated, charming and endearing.
It is a shame that Disney didn’t see this as an opportunity to bring in subjects that were once seen as taboo, but now perfectly acceptable in a family friendly feature. The issue of homosexuality is noticeable due to its absence. Dance choreographer Ryan would have been the most obvious candidate for a sympathetic gay character, but it turns out Ryan is straight and has the hots for bookish musician Kelsi. But older viewers who want something more biting and socially sharp have the boxsets of Glee at their disposal (which has enough gay energy to power the national grid).
High School Musical 3 isn’t just for naive 10-year-olds and Christian Conservatives who believe sex before marriage is nothing short of debauchery. It’s for anyone who enjoys the magic of well-filmed family entertainment. It may be commercially driven, mainstream nonsense, but at least it’s good, fun and harmless commercially driven mainstream nonsense.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year, (2008), directed by Kenny Ortega, is available on Blu-ray disc and DVD from Walt Disney Studios, Certificate U. The film contains some flashing imagery.