High School Musical (2006) (part 1 of 12)
Every now and then, a movie comes out of the blue and captures the attention of millions, and far exceeds the filmmakers’ wildest expectations, and makes an insane amount of money for the studio, all without anyone ever realizing that the film itself is stunningly mediocre.
A whole lot of examples come to mind: My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Clerks. The Shrek movies. Ghost, also recapped here at the Agony Booth. I’m not just talking about overrated movies. I’m talking about lightweight films that somehow struck a deep chord with a key demographic, leaving everybody outside of that demographic without the slightest clue of what all the fuss was about.
The latest movie you can add to this long list of overhyped mediocrity is the Disney Channel Original Movie High School Musical, and in this case, the key demographic is young girls, particularly the tweeners that make up the Disney Channel’s core audience. Basically, everything that is non-me.
Being outside that demographic, I really had no intention of ever seeing this movie. I only watched it for the first time a couple of months ago, years after the High School Musical hype machine had already kicked into high gear. But even if you’re not paying attention, it’s hard to avoid a movie that spins off sequels, soundtrack albums, video games, dolls, clothes, costumes, novels, theme park attractions, a reality show, a stage show, and an ice show (yes, there was a High School Musical ice show). You’d have to be living in a cave not to have heard about this movie.
But despite all this, my interest was never piqued. The overly generic title certainly wasn’t helping. The title seems to imply there’s never been a musical set at a high school before now, when I’m pretty sure there have. I mean, I’m really, really sure there have been a few, at least.
It’s obvious that a group of Disney programming execs got into a conference room and went, Okay, guys, brainstorming time: what’s hot right now? High school shows? Alright, let me put that on the white board. What else is hot? Musicals? Hold the phone, I just got a great idea!
No surprise, the finished product is about as generic as the title.
The script is predictable and uninspired. The songs are sappy and clichéd. There’s such a thing as “subtlety”, and then there’s the performances in this movie, and never the twain shall meet. There’s no way a rational adult can watch this movie and seriously think it deserves even a fraction of the hype it’s getting.
The one and only reason High School Musical is of any importance at this moment in human history is because tweeners (or rather, the parents of tweeners) are spending ungodly amounts of money on all the merchandise. And they’re only obsessing over the merchandise because, well, they don’t really know any better.
But I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. Let’s face it: there are huge segments of our economy that are dependent on 10-12 year olds who don’t know any better. When I was that age, I sure didn’t know any better than what I heard on Top 40 radio, or saw on primetime TV, which were the same things all my friends were watching/listening to.
If you think High School Musical is uninspired, let me tell you about the decade I grew up in: Family Ties was one of America’s most watched TV shows. Rick Springfield had like fifty Top 10 hits. These days, I can see all this stuff for the junk it is, but at the time, I and a lot of people my age sure didn’t know any better.
And so it is with the current fans of High School Musical. Give them another 2 years, 3 at the most, and all High School Musical merchandise will be moved into a large box in their respective attics, never to be touched again until yard sales decades from now.
But until then… cha-ching, baby!
That’s certainly the mantra at Disney, which is busy milking this franchise for all it’s worth. And who can blame them? The first movie was the fastest-selling TV movie DVD of all time, and the second movie was the most-watched basic cable telecast of all time, at least until an ESPN Monday Night Football game a few months later. So, it’s no surprise that High School Musical 3: Senior Year is getting a full-fledged theatrical release this Friday, with all of its stars getting million-dollar payouts.
But you might wonder why I’m buying into the hype and writing this recap. First of all, the very fact that a flimsy TV movie has become a huge cultural phenomenon makes it a ripe target. Second of all, as someone completely outside of the movie’s target audience, I wanted to understand what it was all about. If you’re like me, maybe you too will learn something before we’re done. Oh, sure, you could just watch the movie, but that’s not really the point of this website, is it?
One last thing before we get going: I’d be shirking my duties if I didn’t point out the obvious Agony Booth connection here: The movie’s director, Kenny Ortega, is an accomplished choreographer, who also choreographed Xanadu and Quest for Camelot, both recapped here. But if you think I’m going to start tracking choreographers on the Repeat Offenders page, you’re out of your mind.
And while not necessarily Booth-related, he also choreographed Matthew Broderick lip syncing to the Beatles, and Jon Cryer lip syncing to Otis Redding, and of course, The Swayze in Dirty Dancing. And of course, we can’t forget that his directorial debut, also for Disney, was Newsies. Ortega may be no David Lean, but I really can’t begrudge anybody who paid his dues for thirty years and is finally hitting the big time.
The film opens on a really fake-looking shot of a ski resort. It’s like a weird photoshop job, actually. It’s also “New Years [sic] Eve”, per the caption. The ski resort is covered in snow, so I’ll assume this is not taking place in the year 2113 during the height of global warming.
In keeping with the wintery mise-en-scène, there’s tender “home for the holidays”-type orchestration in the background. If they pulled back and this was all happening inside a snow globe, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
Inside the lodge, a weak-ass New Year’s Eve party is happening. There’s maybe ten balloons here, and kids are wearing stupid party hats. And they’re not even the usual party-style hats, either. They’ve all got on plastic Viking hats, and plastic King Arthur hats, and plastic fedoras. Wait, I thought the hat convention wasn’t until July?
Somewhere else in the lodge, a MILF-ish woman with long dark hair looks for her daughter. She finds the teenage girl curled up on a couch, wearing Ugg boots and reading a book. Mom takes away the book, and reminds “Gabby” that it’s New Year’s Eve, and she really should join the “teen party”. Oh, hells yeah. When they specially call it out as a “teen party”, you know it’s a rager.
Gabby’s not interested, however. I think she heard about the plastic hats. She whines and begs for her book back, because she’s just that much into reading. Don’t let her complete and total hotness fool you! She would so much rather be reading then going to some party! Mom reluctantly hands the book back, and the two walk off.
So, even if you only happen to know High School Musical through cultural osmosis, you probably know that “Gabby”, AKA Gabriella, is played by Vanessa Hudgens. Or “Vanessa Anne Hudgens”, as the case may be. She had small roles in other movies before this, but High School Musical was her breakout. Since then, she’s become a shill for sneakers and beauty products, and put out two whole albums of songs she had no part in writing. Releasing disposable albums has become something of a trend among the cast of High School Musical, but more on that later.
Oh yeah, and there was something about her nude photos getting leaked to the internet and being seen by millions. I vaguely recall hearing about that.