Sunday, August 19, 2007

TV Movie Review: High School Musical 2

One of the most anticipated sequels of the summer is something made for the small screen. High School Musical 2 premiered on August 17, 2007 and is the follow-up to High School Musical, the blockbuster 2006 Disney Channel Original Movie that became a phenomenon.

The original film became the bestselling TV movie DVD ever and spawned not only the bestselling album of 2006 but a concert tour, tons of merchandise, and many, many theatrical productions. The movie put its stars on the map with three cast members releasing albums, one starring in his very own “DCOM,” one appearing in the big screen remake of Hairspray, and one strutting her stuff on Dancing With The Stars.

With months and months of hype and the future of a multi-million dollar franchise at stake, High School Musical 2 had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, the movie delivers with flying colors. High School Musical 2 is just as much fun as the original and should delight its target audience and beyond.

Everyone behind the original film is back including director/choreographer Kenny Ortega and writer Peter Barsocchini. The film picks up a few months after the conclusion of the original as the students of East High await summer vacation. Basketball player Troy (Zac Efron) and brainy Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) are a couple and look forward to spending time together. It's especially important to Gabriella, who is experiencing her first summer without moving. Troy and Gabriella, along with Chad (Corbin Bleu), Taylor (Monique Coleman), Zeke (Chris Warren Jr.), Martha (Kaycee Stroh), Kelsi (Olesya Rulin), and Jason (Ryne Sanborn), are having trouble finding summer jobs.

The antagonists of the original film are also back for more. Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and her brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) are members of the exclusive Lava Springs Country Club. Sharpay is looking to win the country club's annual Talent Show and cement her dominance there. Her plot to win involves getting Troy to sing with her. She gets the club's manager to offer Troy a job at the club. Troy won't take the job unless his friends get jobs and thus, all the Wildcats end up working at the country club.

Where the first film dealt with the issue of cliques, this one deals with the issue of class. Sharpay and Ryan's family is very, very rich (they own the country club) and Sharpay wields the power her status provides like a knife. Far from the stuck-up girl in the original film, Sharpay is a mean, Paris Hilton-in-training here as she gradually turns Troy away from his friends and dangles the potential of a college scholarship as bait. At the same time, Ryan is depressed as Sharpay and even his parents take a liking to Troy and start to forget about him. While Troy moves up in status thanks to Sharpay (and becomes a jerk in the process), Ryan finds friendship in the very same people he looked down upon in the first film.

The performances in High School Musical 2 are pretty good. A couple in real life (at the moment), Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens have real chemistry as Troy and Gabriella. The other actors also do a good job and it's nice to see minor characters from the first film (especially Ryan) get beefed up parts. However, Ashley Tisdale steals the show. Her Sharpay is not only vicious and self-absorbed, but also hilarious. Tisdale's performance is over-the-top, but she gives the character enough depth that you can almost understand her actions by the end of the movie.

The choreography in the film is top-notch. The musical numbers are bigger, bolder, and full of energy. The opener, “What Time Is It?” is massive as it combines elements of dances from the earlier films (there is a portion with basketballs) and new twists of its own (the seemingly neverending wave). “Work It Out” takes place in a kitchen and features a Stomp-esque portion with pots and pans. “I Don't Dance” is this film's “Get'cha Head In The Game” replacing basketball with baseball.

The music in the film is comparable to (and sometimes better than) the music of the first film. Unlike the first film, Zac Efron does all his own singing here. Two tracks stand out from the rest. “Fabulous,” a song for Ashley Tisdale's Sharpay is great fun with a sophistication that almost equals the ironic “Stick To The Status Quo” from the first film. However, “You Are The Music In Me” (performed by Efron and Vanessa Hudgens) is arguably the best song that's appeared in either movie. The ballad version (as opposed to the hilariously bad version performed by Ashley Tisdale) is a surprisingly good pop song. This is a song that, remade by the right artist, could possibly crossover beyond the tween demographic of the movie.

Overall, High School Musical 2 is a blast, a perfect capper to the summer of 2007. Although it's not better than the original, it's not worse either. Even though it's technically a “bigger” film than the previous one, it's also more focused on relationships. The relationships between Troy and Gabriella, Troy and his friends, Ryan and the Wildcats, and Sharpay and Troy are what ultimately drive the film. It goes for heavier issues than the last film such as the uncertainty of the future and the pressure to choose between friends/family and individual success.

It's going to be a treat to watch this film again during one of its many airings on Disney Channel. If the next frontier for the High School Musical franchise is the big screen (as long rumored), then I can't wait to see what the people behind these films can do with a bigger canvas and a bigger budget.

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