Within the Disney community, there are sharp divisions. You’re a Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain person. You can be for Vinylmations or against them. You love Pecos Bill’s burgers or you will die defending Beaches and Cream. But no topic brings out the knives and pitchforks faster than High School Musical. Some die-hard Disney fans view this teen musical as an assault on the grave of Walt himself, a danger to be eradicated and a menace to the world. Others view it as a fun and harmless distraction.
Which camp do I land in? I’m on board. High School Musical is fun. If you’re one of those who denigrates it, I can understand your hesitation to watch it and your eagerness to bash it. But just because I understand it does not mean I can condone it.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first – if you haven’t seen High School Musical, then don’t knock it. As our mothers used to say, “You never know unless you try it.” I’ll admit to my fair share of trepidation when I first watched the original film. But it turned out to be a great joy for me.
Why did I enjoy it so much? Several reasons, to be honest. The story is a familiar one in some ways, but the twist of introducing singing and artistic talent into a coming of age story is really nice. The music is quite catchy, especially if you are someone like me who loves pop and dance music. Finally, the acting is a notch above the typical Disney Channel fare.
Let’s face it, the popular kid doing something unpopular is a story we’ve seen in teen movies before. So seeing Zac Efron as Troy Bolton try out for the school musical isn’t a new idea. What is new–at least for me–was seeing how that affected the other kids in the school. The idea of having Troy’s act inspire others was a nice twist, especially because it encouraged them to break the mold of high school. Too few movies do that without resorting to clichés of illicit activity. Instead of encouraging kids to cheat on their homework, do drugs, skip class or anything like that, High School Musical teaches kids to express themselves artistically.
The music those kids produce in this film is simply amazing. Sure, it’s all pop. And yes, there’s no deep lyrical genius. But the songs manage to be catchy, entertaining, and also move the story along. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s done in this movie and done well.
The real story in these movies is the acting, though. I’ll single out Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella for a good performance, but the star is of course Ashely Tisdale as Sharpay. Tisdale is so over the top that she makes Sharpay feel real. She takes a part that could have been a caricature and makes her just like every crazed drama kid you knew in high school. The supporting cast is good, if unspectacular, but the three main leads of Efron, Hudgens and Tisdale really make the movie.
Bottom line here is that High School Musical is a good movie. It’s not something you can point to as high art or some kind of deep statement on life. Instead, it’s a movie with a positive message for kids that still manages to be entertaining for adults. If you are a hater on this film, I challenge you to watch it all the way through. If you are not entertained, then I’ll consider admitting I’m wrong. I don’t think I’ll have to do that, though.