I'm not only the wrong demographic for High School Musical 3: Senior Year, but I'm old enough to be bringing a theoretical child of my own to the movie as the right demographic. In fact, I was the oldest person in the theater without an accompanying child. I would have felt skeevy commenting on whether Zac Efron is hot, and had to settle for pondering the cuteness of the guy playing Efron's dad (maybe). But since Cinematical wasn't interested in finding a pre-teen with astounding film-critic abilities (we could use that critic-kid from Hamlet 2 at times like this), you're stuck hearing what Ol' Lady Jette had to say about High School Musical 3. I better make this fast before my arthritis kicks in.
High School Musical 3 is what it is -- a standard musical with no agenda other than good clean fun. It's just like the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals, right down to the "Let's put on a show!" theme, and will probably seem just as corny as Babes in Arms in 50 years. The previous two movies were made for TV, but the production values on this film are theatrical quality, and in fact some of the splashier dance numbers are going to lose some of their pizzazz on a smaller screen.
The plot works just fine for a breezy teen musical -- not too intrusive, not too talky, but with a little something to keep you from snoozing between songs. Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), the adorable singing couple from the first two High School Musical movies, are now seniors and preparing to graduate. But they're worried because Troy's family assumes he's going to University of Albuquerque to play basketball, while Gabriella's mom has been pushing her at Stanford for years ... poor Gabriella! It reminded me of the girl in Step Up whose mean old mom was trying to make her go to Cornell. Meanwhile, the rest of the High School Musical gang also returns, and naturally everyone gets involved in planning the school's annual big spring musical. There's also a competition between four of the characters who are all in the running for a scholarship to Julliard, including the usual nemesis of the main couple, diva-wannabe Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale). If you're going to give a girl a name that sounds like a dog, you have to expect some kind of warped behavior.
The dance numbers are the best things about this movie -- the bigger the better. The costumes were fabulous, with bright colors galore, and the choreography was playful and fun. The solos and love ballads were less successful because the dancing took a back seat to the actual music, which struck me as surprisingly blah. I felt confused. Normally, older people are supposed to grumble about how those teenagers' music today is too loud and raucous, and the lyrics are too dirty. But the mellow, generic-sounding pop numbers made me nostalgic for Rock 'n' Roll High School and The Ramones.
The singing all sounds overprocessed to me as well, making it difficult to distinguish one voice from another. I was reminded of that episode of The Simpsons in which Bart and Millhouse become part of a boy band and their voices are run through a voice enhancer so they sound like New Kids on the Block. I started wondering if any of the voices I was hearing were genuine, or if an auto-tuner had been used. I also don't like that overwrought style of singing punctuated with sighs and audible breaths. The one singing voice that sounded most individual was Olesya Rulin, as Kelsi the pianist/composer; as a result, she was one of my favorite characters in the film.
High School Musical 3 has no real message other than to encourage teenagers to be well-rounded, and to respect the choices of jocks who want to be dancers too -- that we all have an arty side buried deep within us. And of course there's the whole "follow your dreams" theme that populates so many musicals and teen movies. However, I had no wish for more depth or complexity, since the few emotional numbers in the film seemed to tax the chirpy young actors' range. I wouldn't have minded a little more of the cartoonish evil from Sharpay, too -- the movie is often at its best when she's vamping and plotting. If you liked the first two movies, and are fond of Efron and Hudgens, then you'll certainly want to see the third movie in a theater. But if you're not fond of what a colleague of mine referred to as "middle-school pop," you might want to stay home and rent some old Busby Berkeley movies ... or Rock 'n' Roll High School. Where's P.J. Soles when you need her most?