Far be it from me to argue with success. High School Musical was the most watched original movie on the Disney Channel when it aired in January and the multiple repeat showings have done little to satisfy its millions of fans (I know, more popular than even Johnny Tsunami? Surprising, but true.) Tweens everywhere launched the soundtrack CD to the top of the charts and now here comes the “Encore Edition” DVD, sure to be a big seller. So, is it worth the hype? Will teens, young adults, parents, the elderly and farm animals embrace the newly released DVD along with under 14 crowd? Is this whole thing just a homogenized wholesome rip-off of Grease? The answer to these questions is, of course, no. The comparison to Grease is based primarily on the opening scenes. Popular jock Troy (Zac Efron) and brainiac Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) meet cute singing karaoke at a snowboarding resort on New Years Eve and later learn that they go to the same high-school, where Gabriella has just transferred. That does match up with Danny and Sandy meeting at the beach during the summer, but the rest of the movie owes more to Romeo and Juliet (or West Side Story) than anything else. Troy and Gabriella learn that they love to sing, and toy with the idea of trying out for, you guessed it, the high school musical. But jocks and brains don't have it easy existing in the highly segmented world of pretend Disney high school. Troy's new interest concerns the school's basketball coach (Bart Johnson), who is also his dad, and Troy's best friend (Corbin Bleu) who worry about how this singing thing will distract Troy from winning the basketball championship. Gabriella gets involved with the academic decathlon and her brainy buddy (Monique Coleman) has nothing but disdain for jocks. Each group does their best to keep Troy and Gabriella apart and out of the show, aided in part by the brother/sister duo of Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), who are worried that the newcomers will usurp the lead roles that they've felt entitled to since birth. Along the way the movie pushes hard the moral that you should follow your dream, be who you want to be, and step away from your usual crowd once in awhile. I won't give away the ending but lets just say the execution of Carlo, Tessio and the heads of the five families has nothing on a gym full of 20-somethings pretending to be high schoolers performing "We're All in This Together."
Forget the plot, though, this is a musical after all, it's right in the title. What about the singing and dancing? Lest we forget, director/choreographer Kenny Ortega choreographed the opening of the 2002 Olympics (and the Disney 1992 musical, Newsies.) The guy has got mad skilz, how does that come off? Not bad, actually. The musical numbers, some staged as part of the musical rehearsal process and a few "spontaneous" numbers around the school, are pretty fun and full of energy. The music isn't.....bad. If you like the kind of stuff be churned out by boy bands and pop princesses the last ten years, you'll enjoy this. The performers are upbeat and quite talented. Some of the tunes will stick in your heads for days....dammit. It's just nothing all that special.
Even if the music were better, though, the main problem with this movie is the complete lack of originality. Ok, they don't need to reinvent the wheel, but it is somewhat ironic that the main theme of the flick is not sticking to the status quo (there is even a whole song about it) while all you see are recycled ideas and stereotypical characters. We've seen everything before. Every idea is pushed home not just with the characters actions but with direct words like "Troy, you're a jock, don't try to be a singer, do what everyone expects of you." Writer Peter Barsocchini crams the idea that these kids should follow a unique path into almost every scene, but the filmmakers have taken the safe route, every relationship is pre-ordained and obvious, every action a copy from a hundred other movies and TV shows. After spending time together trying to break-up Zac and Gabriella, the jocks and brains realize that, hey, the other group isn't so darn bad after all! Who saw that coming? Everyone, that's who.
On the plus side, the music and dancing is fun to watch. There are a few funny moments (one kid who enjoys both playing basketball and baking has a running joke about crème brule which is amusing). The cast, mostly unknown TV actors including a few Disney Channel vets, is clean cut, energetic, and positive all the time. I feel a little bit like a kill joy being negative about it. There are worse ways to pass an evening, even though Oaklahoma has nothing to worry about. Your kids, if you have them, will love it and you won't poke your eyes out or anything. When you see the phrase "A Disney Channel Original Movie" that's saying something. I’ve seen this disc online for anywhere from $14-$26. That’s not bad, but really your best bet is to set up your DVR to record it the next time it shows on Disney Channel for free. You don’t get a whole lot with this “Encore Edition.” In fact, the name should arouse your suspicion; even Disney couldn’t muster the cajones to call this a “Special Edition.” It's a little surprising that the most popular Disney Channel movie of all time (and probably destined to hold the record for quite awhile) didn't rate a bigger DVD package. Maybe that is on the way.
The big extra is a sing-along edition of the movie. It is the same flick, but the song lyrics show up on the bottom of the screen during musical numbers. If you or the kids like to sing-along, this can be a nice addition, but not critical. From there, it goes downhill fast. A nine minute making of featurette gives startling insights that are along the lines of “boy, we worked hard” and “the director is a great guy!” There is something called “Learning the Moves” where director Kenny Ortega leads two actors and his two assistant choreographers on the steps for part of their on-screen dance. You can view the dance from four different angles and switch back and forth. Whoopee.
Finally, there are two music videos. One is from the movie’s final song “We’re All in this Together.” It shows shots of the song from the movie and other movie scenes. It clocks in at a brief minute and forty seconds, so I get the feeling it was used as a commercial for the movie on the Disney Channel. The other is a full length video for “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” It also shows clips from the show along with the pretend recording session of the vocals.
The movie looks and sounds good. It is shown in 1.33 to 1, but since it was shot to be shown on a TV screen, you won't notice anything misssing.
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