I haven’t yet seen High School Musical 3: Senior Year, but I’m not going to be able to put it off for much longer. My daughter (6) has the first two movies on DVD, knows all the songs, and now knows there’s a third movie at the cinema.
In some ways, it’s surprising that the movie appeals to tots. It’s set in a High School and the plot centres around the teen romance between Troy (Zac Ephron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) – not the kind of thing you’d expect a six-year-old to be interested in. But my daughter and all her friends are obsessed by it.
The plots in the first two movies are virtually identical, and both are full of holes. The dialogue is unreal and packed with cliché. But Disney’s publicity machine knew what they were doing. Gabriella is like the star princess little girls want to be – pretty, sensitive, straight-talking and a great singer and dancer – and Troy is the guy who manages to overcome even his friends’ disapproval for love of his woman – when faced with the choice of leading his team to basketball glory or singing with Gabriella in the school play, he chooses… both. Obvious, really, but not to his friends. Not to him for some time either – he has to overcome huge hurdles, believe me. The girls love him for doing the right thing.
But is Troy tall enough to be a basketball champion? Basketball players all appear to be about 7 ft. tall, but Troy seems about average height – I don’t know, 5 ft 10? And when Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) makes her move on him in her typically cheesy way, why doesn’t he just tell her to get lost. He seems clueless, but maybe that’s another reason why the girls love him – he’s entirely un-manipulative.
Ryan, Sharpay’s twin brother, was portrayed as an idiot in the first movie, but becomes cool and sharp in the second movie, despite his daft hats. This dramatic change in character is almost as hard to accept as the fact that Gabriella is supposed to be a mathematical genius. She is never, at any time, believable as a genius. Of course, she doesn’t want to be that “weird math girl”, but someone should have told her that no one could have mistaken her for “weird” by any stretch of the imagination. She tells Troy that he makes her feel “just like a girl”, a line every guy wants to hear at least one in his lifetime. Gabriella is full of winning smiles and cute moves. Her voice is practically liquid.
Troy and Gabriella also prove that you don’t have to work too hard at being a star. The first time they meet each other, pulled from obscurity to duet in an end-of-year karaoke, they manage to sing in perfect harmony. Hey, they never realised before that they could sing. Gabriella has sung in a church choir. Troy had sung only in his shower. And yet they wow the crowd in three minutes flat. It’s magical, not something you practice or work at, but a gift. This could be you too, six-year-old! You can see how folk at the X-Factor and American Idol who’ve never sung a note in their lives are prepared to brave the TV cameras and the barbs of the judges – they never know, an unexpectedly angelic voice might just pop out by magic and propel them to stardom, like Troy and Gabriella.
So Troy gets his girl, he wins the audition, he captains the basketball team to the championship and scores the winning point in the last second of the game. What a hero! You couldn't have written the script, could you? Well, actually, you could have guessed it all, but at least you're never going to be disappointed or surprised.
One further reason why the movies have been so successful: most music aimed at primary school children is awful – bleepy electronic crap powered by horrible drum machines which sound like hangovers from the eighties. While High School Musical isn’t the kind of stuff that any self-respecting post-punk adult would listen to out of choice, the music is actually good. Disney must have picked up some very skilled songwriters and arrangers to write the soundtrack. In the first movie, particularly, every melody is strong. It’s not horrible to listen to. At least, it’s not horrible to listen to compared to the alternatives. And if you’re a parent having to listen to it about 20 million times, that counts for a lot. Again, Disney knew what they were doing.
If you haven’t seen this (i.e. if you don’t have any kids of the requisite age), here’s a song from the first movie. Sharpay and Ryan have performed their audition for the school show – a cheesy (everything they do is over-the-top), self-obsessed, egotistical rant about how they want to make it to the top by any means necessary. On come Troy and Gabriella to show them how it’s done. The other kids are soon on their feet dancing and applauding, Troy’s disaffected dad and Gabriella’s mum enter and you can just see that look of astonished pride in their eyes. And, of course, the happy couple really mean it. When they look into each other’s eyes, we’re all there with them, recapturing our own youth, our own missed opportunities, thinking, “that could have been me, if only I’d pulled Vanessa Anne Hudgens out on stage and sang my heart out to her at the age of 17.” I’ve heard that kids in the cinemas are passing round the tissues through sections of the new movie, such is the overload of sentiment as Troy makes the hard choice for his future beyond school – singing or basketball? Gabriella or his friends? What will he choose? Have we heard something like this before? Perhaps he will think back to this audition and win over his six-year-old fans yet again…