I know at least six full-grown women who love Grease 2. I also know two women and one gay man who adore Xanadu. Hell, I know one lunatic who thinks The Wiz is better than The Wizard of Oz. And I'm certainly not immune: You know that live-action Popeye musical? I love it. So it seems that just about every movie fan has some weird taste in musicals every once in a while. Which brings us to the out-of-nowhere phenomenon hit that became a global virus a few years back when "just another" made-for-Disney Channel movie debuted ... and became that hottest kiddie sensation since, like, The Cabbage Patch Kids. (Yeah, I'm old.)
But I get "camp," I can get behind "corny," and I certainly don't see anything wrong with a family-friendly musical movie that's freshly-scrubbed and patently homogenized. Having said that, I thought the first High School Musical was a real trial to sit through. On the pain scale I'd put it somewhere between novocaine-free root canal and finding your wife in bed with your dad. So if you're one of those die-hard High School Musical pod people, you might want to stop reading this piece right now. Because if it's me you're asking, the sequel's even worse.
But first here's a recap of the saga so far, courtesy of Disney supporter and mother of five, Kim Voynar (who gave me this synopsis as part of an IM conversation and has no idea it's being used here): "Gabriela and Troy met at a New Year's bash while singing karaoke. Much like in Grease, he thought he'd never see her again, but then she miraculously ends up attending his HS when her mother gets transferred. She's a science geek who just wants to be normal, he's a jock who secretly loves to sing. When they decide to audition for the school musical, which Sharpay and Ryan have dominated since kindergarten, it sets off a chain reaction of high school clique clashes in which science geeks dare to talk to jocks, jocks reveal secret (strange) desires to sing and dance and cook. And it threatens the Entire. Social. Structure. of East High. Sharpay tries to undermine Troy and Gabriela by getting the drama teacher to schedule callbacks at the same time as the Science Competition AND the basketball Big Game. (Which is oddly scheduled at 3 in the afternoon and not at night.) So the geeks and jocks have to work together to help Gabriela and Troy audition, by rigging the clock at the game to shut down. And a science competition experiment to cause an evacuation. The Geeks and Jocks Unite! We're All in This Together... Which leads us to ... Summer! Summer!"
Which leads us to "Summer! Summer!" indeed. (Thanks, Kim.) More a blatant remake than an actual follow-up, High School Musical 2 takes place during the summer before senior year. As before, our blandly photogenic cast includes Zac Efron as Nice Guy, Vanessa Anne Hudgens as Sweet Girl, Corbin Bleu as Best Friend (Minority Division), Ashley Tisdale as Snooty Priss, and Lucas Grabeel as Effeminate Fop. The five idiots (along with Smart Gal, Chunky Chick and the Three Preening Sidekicks) will hop, bop and "rock" their way through one summer at a swanky country club. And you're being subjected to it. The bulk of the plot (for lack of a better word) is that tiredest of old schpiels: Nice Guy starts moving into a cooler social crowd, thereby alienating Sweet Girl, Best Friend, and a bunch of random dancers in the process. To be honest, if someone would just smack Snooty Priss once (and not even that hard) the movie would be about 12 minutes long. That's how much trouble she causes.
I've used this phrase before, but the High School Musical flicks are like a film professor's worst and sweatiest LSD-induced nightmare: The acting performances are as inert as the actors are shiny. The plotless structure simply shambles limply from one poorly-edited musical scene to the next. (Every time you're three frames away from enjoying some dance steps, the editor jams another cut in there and ruins the moment.) The attempts at humor would cause involuntary eye-rolling in even the giddiest of schoolgirls. And the actual music? Yikes. Imagine a syrup-covered chipmunk singing the words to every Hallmark card ever written.
OK, so it's pretty easy to be snide and cynical where homogenzied kid-friendly fare like this is concerned. But hey, every movie-lover has their share of "guilty pleasures," right? And kids are pretty smart. I think they're generally well-aware of how silly, trite and disposable the whole High School Musical thing is -- but they just don't care. Just like a gorehound will make apologies for Friday the 13th Part 7 and a hopeless romantic will somehow find a way to enjoy the newest Sandra Bullock movie, the kids just like those peppy little song & dance numbers -- plot, script and quality filmmaking be damned. (And it's not like the kids really know any better. They'll discover good music and quality movies in due time.) Frankly I wish the tots of the nation would get hypnotized by a movie series that's not this poorly-constructed, but what does a 7-year-old know of terrible acting, witless dialog and endless deluges of water-flavored clichés and candy-colored stereotypes?
Very little. And until those kids grow old enough to know the difference between colorful fluff and good movies, I say let 'em watch the damn High School Musicals. As long as they're well aware that these movies represent a reality that makes Lovecraft look like non-fiction, I see nothing all that terrible about these fluffy and brainless time-wasters. Heck, it could be worse: It could be an Olsen Twins movie. And long after your kids have grown up and forgotten all about these day-glo High School Musical migraines, they'll probably still have a burning passion for music and/or movies in general. And I suppose that's a good thing.