October 30, 2008

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High School Musical 3: Senior Year (G)
The kids put on one more show in the relentlessly upbeat pop extravaganza High School Musical 3: Senior Year, which you can find at the theater by following the high-pitched squeals of its audience.

Since the youngster in my household is more into The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and is a boy, I haven’t seen the first two High School Musicals, but I don’t think prior knowledge is terribly necessary. You understand right away that Troy (Zac Efron) is the school star, because of both his basketball prowess and his kick-butt moves as a dancer and singer in school plays; that Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) is his sweet, brainy, equally theatrically talented True Love; that Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) is the materialistic stuck-up troublemaker; that Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) is her choreographer brother; that Martha (KayCee Stroh), is the chubby girl with enough spirit to lead the cheerleading squad (I was that chubby girl so trust me when I say “ha”). It’s a guidance counselor’s rosy vision of a perfect-world high school where everyone’s quirks and differences are embraced and nobody ends up in a locker because he likes to dance.

Based on my understanding of the plots of the previous two movies (which found their massive audience on TV), the plot of this movie is either as typically thin as or even thinner than its predecessors. The kids have to prepare a musical that mirrors their experiences in the senior year of high school while they deal with the choices required by college, choices that threaten to pull Troy and Gabriella hundreds of miles apart. There’s also some stuff with Sharpay and her plans for world domination or something but otherwise, that’s it. Despite the multi-cultural-ness of the cast, the movie plays out like an extremely white-bread version of Grease as presented by Target and The Gap — without all that edgy talk about being a beauty school dropout or lousy with virginity. As its G rating would suggest, this is the chastest group of high school seniors this side of … well, I can’t think of anything this chaste. The previously mentioned Zack and Cody (on which many of these youngsters have appeared) is more suggestive.

But this isn’t some searing look at teenage life a la Thirteen or Kids. This is a movie for younger kids, kids who have not yet experienced the Oz-like gen. pop. environment that can exist in an actual high school. Why tell them about the sex and the bullying and the body issues? Let them believe that high school is about magical proms, singing basketball teams and school plays created in real time. It can’t screw you up any worse than movies about mermaids wishing for legs.

And on the kid entertainment level, the movie works well enough. It is wholesome good fun with catchy songs that (sorry, Mom and Dad) the tweens will want to dance and karaoke to over and over. There’s something a little too commercial about the whole endeavor, something slick and “On Sale Now”-ish that kept me from uncontrollably humming the songs days after I’d left the theater, the way I did with the arguably more shakily constructed but more genuinely fun Mamma Mia!. (In fact, when I think of this movie, it’s not its Britney- and Justin-lite music that runs through my head but, inexplicably, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray — perhaps that cheery riff on a John Waters movie is as unironically happy as I can go.) But when I saw this movie, the girls in the theater squealed and the kids laughed and I didn’t see too many parents sneaking nips from hidden flasks though I did leave with a mild headache. C+

Rated G. Directed by Kenny Ortega and written by Peter Barsocchini, High School Musical 3: Senior Year is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed by Buena Vista Pictures.