I didn't get in at ground level for the High School Musical phenomenon. More accurately, High School Musical didn't get in at ground level for me. To enjoy the High School Musical series you need to be blissfully unaware of a few key realities. In this case, you need to not know what high school is truly like. High School Musical 3: Senior Year takes the romanticized view of the first two installments and bumps up the nostalgia factor for the cast and fans alike.
We rejoin our High School cadre in the close of their Senior Year. Troy (Zac Efron) and Chad (Corbin Bleu) have just won the basketball championship and the high school is aglow with all the warm fuzziness Disney tells us it should have. Meanwhile Gabriella faces an important decision in light of her acceptance to Stanford - finish the year out or take the early admission? With all of this going on the gang gets thrown into the final production of their High School careers but do they have time to get it done? The pressure is on and to make things more competitive four of the cast members have been selected for possible Juilliard scholarships! Only two can win, but for Troy it means more than for anyone else; should he pursue basketball or theater for college? Everyone's lives have become so busy it's easy for certain things to get neglected, and for the cast of HSM3 there's a lot that needs to be worked out.
My problem with the HSM series is that Disney was allowed to essentially create its own set of stars without having to compare them against the quality standards of the industry. While Zac Efron may have proven himself to some satisfaction outside the doors of East High the rest of the cast has had very little need or opportunity to better their acting chops. Sure, Vanessa Hudgens is pretty but she's got the acting talent of balsa wood. Singing and dancing are secondary to acting - yes, even in a musical. Among the main four, the only other cast member worthy of notice is Corbin Bleu whom has plenty of charisma even though I'm not yet convinced he's got any serious acting ability. But then - I've never seen him do anything outside of HSM.
Oddly enough it was the back half of the cast that came through in HSM3. Lucas Grabeel, as Ryan, provided most of (if not all) of the comedic strength and may have had the best performance in the movie. Olesya Rulin, the onscreen musical's composer was also one of the more magnetic personalities despite being resigned to the sidelines for a majority. Ashley Tisdale (as Ryan's sister Sharpay) resumes the prima donna role but I can safely say now that she's better than any of her cohorts. She's at least got some great voice acting under her belt. Then you have extras like Chris Warren Jr. who, for all intents and purposes are just part of the scenery.
So while Disney makes its own stars with maybe a 50% success ratio, HSM3 unabashedly lays the groundwork for sequels with a new focus on the upcoming class by introducing Matt Prokop, Justin Martin and Jemma McKenzie Brown to the mix. Sigh.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
High School Musical 3: Senior Year- Deluxe Extended Edition is swollen with extra features just as an awaiting mother dog is laden with unborn puppies. You don't really want to deal with the puppies - but they're coming and your kids are already emotionally attached. But in this case...you have to keep them all - and goddamn, if there aren't a lot of them.
The package is already a pretty solid deal considering it gives you not only the Blu-ray copy but a DVD copy and a digital copy to boot. Then when you layer on the rather extensive "Yearbook" of extra features...well, you're in for the long haul mom and dad. Lean back.
Besides your typical Outtake and Blooper reels you'll find about 11 behind the scenes featurettes often narrated by director Kenny Ortega and ranging from the interactions between the familiar HSM cast and the new students, the story behind some of the bigger musical numbers and how they planned various pieces of choreography. While mildly interesting from a technical level just like the film itself, these featurettes will really only find traction in the teeny bopper crowd who feel a shriek of joy coming over them when Troy and Gabriella hold hands.
"New Cast Profiles"
As I said, it's somewhat disturbing the way Disney can manufacture their own stars and when you see them do it so blatantly in HSM3 and then turn around and make a featurette about how they do it. It's like a slap in the face. Okay Disney, we get it, you win.
The Senior class moves on leaving the weight of the HSM franchise on the shoulders of the aforementioned new kids.
To complete the behind-the-scenes high school atmosphere a cast and crew yearbook was compiled and in doing so the crew voted on who was most likely to succeed, who had the best smile, etc.
"It's All in the Dress"
The costume designer talks about making the perfect dresses and suits for the cast of HSM3. Outfits that appropriately reflected the character. For the deep thinkers in the crowd.
"Night of Nights"
Further romanticizing the glory of Prom, this behind the scenes featurette talks about all the preparation that went into making the prom night for HSM3.
My biggest gripe with the HSM franchise wasn't with Disney's celebrity inbreeding, it stems from the marketing spin put on the HS experience. Honestly, whose high school experience was this glorious? Isn't high school somewhat traumatizing for everyone? And if it wasn't traumatizing for you, aren't you now married to the head cheerleader and living in a trailer because your football scholarship fell through? And why is EVERYONE in this school part of the drama program?
If you're immersed in the HSM world, there's nothing I can do that'll remove the rosy lenses you see Gabriella and Troy through. But trust me when I tell you that expecting a high school romance to follow into college isn't the norm. It's a freakish rarity. Enjoy the movie but please don't expect this as a typical HS experience. If you don't have a propensity for shrieking when you see Zac Efron then I can at least tell you HSM 3: Senior Year has a few good musical numbers and a few decent performances - but none of the songs really pop out. It's an impressive disc for all the stuff they packed into it and therefore a great buy for fans, but besides the pre-established HSM fans I can't see anyone else getting too excited.
"High School Musical 3: Senior Year" is on sale February 17, 2009 and is rated G. Children & Family, Musical. Directed by Kenny Ortega. Written by Peter Barsocchini. Starring Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel, Monique Coleman, Olesya Rulin, Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron.