The High School Musical Trilogy: A Look Back

Well, I admitted in one of my articles that I liked High School Musical 3 and that’s still the same thing today. Before I used to adore the High School Musical movies more than I do now. I’ll give you a little history on my experience with the franchise, and a little review on each of the films. This won’t include the spin-off Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure as I haven’t seen it.

Today, my opinion has changed on these films, except for the third one. There are people who hate the music saying that it’s only for kids or just saying that the music sucks, but I still know lots of people even around my age, younger and even older, who enjoy these movies just as much as I do. Music might come to a matter of taste for a lot of people, which is the same with movies and whatnot. So now that I have a blog where I can talk about anything, I want to express my present thoughts on these films.

The first High School Musical‘s about Troy, a high school kid who’s the captain of the basketball team, who meets the science-geek, yet pretty Gabriella, on New Year’s Eve. After singing with her in karaoke, he discovers his love for singing and he becomes interested in her. Later, finding out that Gabriella moved to his school this semester, they find out that the school is holding up auditions for a new musical, which alarms Sharpay, the school diva, and her twin brother Ryan, as they always star in the musicals and don’t want any competition. Troy’s afraid to tell his basketball friends about his interest in auditioning, even to his dad, because he’s afraid that they’ll shun him.

When I look back at the music, it’s just ok. Some of the songs like “What I’ve Been Looking For” are quite catchy, but some of them I wouldn’t really listen to again. I don’t like “Get’cha Head in the Game” or “We’re All in This Together” as much anymore, but I don’t hate any of the songs. The film only has like seven songs, which really isn’t enough to call it an actual musical. They only have two or three ensemble numbers, very few dance numbers, and most of the songs are sung on stage, by Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay and Ryan. And as far as the story goes, the target demographic being for young audiences, it’s not too bad, but it’s not really that good. The whole message is that you shouldn’t let society or anyone tell you what your interests should be, and you’re allowed to have more than one interest. And also that of discovering something new. I could see what they were doing there. Although the plot is problematic: the story can be really cliché, including the whole “misunderstanding” that happens in the middle of the story. In portraying high school, I don’t have a problem with having social groups in high school movies (like The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls), but I doubt these kids would even mind  if someone said they had more than one passion or talent. There’s nothing wrong with having more than one interest or social group in high school. On top of that, there’s nothing really at stake here. So what if they don’t sing at the school musical? They can take freaking singing classes if they wanted to, wouldn’t they? And nothing horrible will happen if Sharpay and Ryan star in the musical. They seem to be the only people in the school who actually are interested in the musical, other than Troy and Gabriella. Yeah, the story is poor, and the music is ok, so nothing special. It’s not something I’d revisit.

Next is High School Musical 2. It’s summer time and Troy wants to look for a job in order to gain money for uni. Actually, they call it college there, but I don’t care. I’m calling it uni as long as I live in the UK! Anyway, Sharpay sees this as an opportunity to get closer to Troy, and arranges Troy to get hired in the country club that her parents own. Problem is Troy’s friends also get hired, including Gabriella. Sharpay does what she can to separate Troy and Gabriella, and arranges his promotions, because she knows that he’s interested in his funding for uni. Sharpay uses that for her advantage in order to convince him to sing with her at the talent show.

This film looked MUCH more like a musical than the previous one. The visuals are actaully improved much more, there are more dance numbers and the music is even catchier, which would allow me to listen to some of the songs again. Even some of the lyrics were done well. Maybe it was just more budget that the production improved, but I dunno. So the musical aspect definitely improved, and that’s a good thing for a TV movie.

The opposite thing happened with the story. It got worse. The story’s supposed to be how Troy is becoming selfish and distancing himself from his friends… which doesn’t happen. He does get new things and Sharpay offers him things, like rich Italian shoes, but we see that he isn’t really interested in anything, except for a car that his dad gives him. Everything else he accepts ONLY because it’s part of the promotion he’s given, which he feels is beneficial for funding for uni. That’s all. But all of his friends say that he’s becoming someone else. Gabriella says, “It doesn’t seem like new things. It seems like a new Troy.” HOW? He’s always arranged dates for Gabriella and him to hook up, so he’s obviously interested in her, and he’s accepting the promotions only because of uni. I could only think of two moments when he sorta acted like a jerk, but those alone weren’t truly bad acts, and that’s not enough to say that he’s distancing himself from others. If anybody’s selfish, other than Sharpay, it’s his freaking friends! When he’s asked to do a trial for a college that might be interested in his college, his friends become angry that he’s missing a baseball game and that “he’s not spending enough time with them. We’re a team, remember?” Yeah, but it’s HIS life, you selfish brats! Then when they ask Troy to mention the basketball team about them and later they find out that he didn’t, they’re like, “We play basketball as good as you, and you didn’t bother to mention us!” Go tell them yourselves, you lazy pigs. Stop putting so much pressure on Troy! And when Troy misses a baseball game, he does genuinely regret it, but has to miss NOT because he’s a jerk or he’s changed, but because, again, IT’S FOR FREAKING UNI! It’s not just a thing that he likes; it’s his FUTURE, for crying out loud! As friends, you should be able to understand that fact! But to make this worse, Troy actually agrees with them! He agrees that he’s treated his friends poorly and that he’s becoming someone else. That’s just so stupid! So yeah… didn’t like the story at all, but I’d listen to the songs again (except for the deleted song, which thankfully is deleted).

And finally we have the last instalment High School Musical 3: Senior Year, hands down the best one of the bunch. It’s senior year and the students are attempting one more musical before they leave, about their hopes and fears after graduating. Troy is having doubts and confusion about his academic future, especially since his father and his best friend expect him to do basketball in college, but then he mysteriously becomes considered for a scholarship at Julliard School (Really? Julliard?), along with Sharpay, Ryan and another chick named Kelsi. Troy also has to deal with his separation from Gabriella who’s been accepted in Stanford University.

With a bigger budget this time for the big screen instead of a TV film, it’s no doubt that they’d update everything. The visuals, the lighting, editing and the cinematography are WAAAY better than previously. MAN, the dancing choreography was SO GOOD! We even get fantastic visuals, from the Broadway-styled “I Want It All”, the graduates forming a giant wildcat seen from above, and OH MAN! In the song “Scream” (which was awesome), there was a hallway which was spinning. That was so cool! The production of this flick was great. The music I really like. All the songs have great lyrics, have great instrumentals, and I just love listening to them!

And the story? Improved by a mile. It’s actually a good story. Not perfect or great, but satisfactory at least. For one thing, it’s interesting to see a film tackling the issue of graduation, and doing it pretty well. You don’t see that a lot in Disney films. Yeah, the narrative can be a bit predictable and such, but interestingly enough I did care about Troy’s struggle in the film. Should he do something that he knows he’s been doing all his life, or do something he did much more recently, yet something he also enjoys and knows has an amazing potential in? He can’t let go of either passions. Uni is just the beginning of what you want to do for the rest of your life. That part was done ok, and although in the end he does find a way to be close to Gabriella, they at least acknowledge that there might be a point in their lives when they have to move on with new friends and new experiences. Still, memories in high school never change. The story arc is very interesting. The external conflict on whether Troy will sing with Gabriella or whether the musical will succeed is not really that great, but it’s the internal conflict which really works in this film, and what makes Troy so relatable. Obvious flaws included stuff like that British assistant who was helping Sharpay in the film. She was a weak character and I didn’t like her real motivation in the end. Didn’t really make any sense. Either way, it’s the only film of the franchise which I’d revisit. I truly still enjoy this one today.

So the musical aspect kept improving in every film. The stories might be considered bad in the two first films, but the third one had a genuinely good story. Problematic at times, but the themes were tackled pretty well.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the films was Troy. He is a good character and Zac Efron does a good job portraying him. His character shines the most in the third film, where he has an interesting and relatable conflict. He usually finds himself conflicting with what others tell him to do and what he tells himself to do. Troy and Gabriella have a similar conflict in the first film. Their attraction to each other comes from the comfort they feel with each other when they’re allowed to become truly themselves. The only difference between them is that Gabriella has sung in a choir before, but just isn’t very confident in her singing talent, while Troy hasn’t discovered his talent until now, and although he loves it, he’s sacred to tell his friends what he wants. Tale as old as time, but still done ok here. Then… Gabriella as a character on her own… there’s nothing to really like about her. She’s not that interesting, and she might be a bit of a Mary Sue, because she’s great at school, can also shoot hoops, knows first aid, she’s polite and very pretty, everyone likes her… and she might not have a father, so yeah. She’s definitely a Mary Sue. That might annoy most people.

We then have Sharpay, who easily steals the show. EVERYONE loves this character, to the point that she gets her own spin-off movie. I really like Sharpay a lot. She’s an egocentric, yet she LOVES the heck out of what she does, to be in the limelight, to put on a show, and to be the centre of attention. Always in pink or always sparkling. This ends up making her stand out from the rest of the cast. She’s jut so enjoyable! I actually thought she was better than Gabriella as a character and I actually wished to see Sharpay end up singing with Troy!  The problem in the films is that she’s set as the antagonist, but firstly we kinda end up rooting for her and once again there’s not much at stake. People in the film just get annoyed at how self-centred she is. And the conflict is always the same: not allow someone to sing so that she can win. In the second movie, she says that she’s winning, and Gabriella points out that she’s caused damage behind her. To whom? Her brother? Well, yeah, he’s not singing with her anymore, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t perform on his own. And so what if their friends don’t sing? They won’t have fun? Sharpay will do things to get people out of the way and get what she wants, but that doesn’t make her the most horrible person ever. And she immediately learns her lesson in every film like she really didn’t care, so where’s the conflict?

And then there’s Ryan, Sharpay’s twin brother. At first seen as the idiot in the first film, then in the next two films as a guy with much more talent than he deserved, always being outshone by his sister. Nothing special about Troy and Gabriella’s other friends. Sometimes they can act really selfish and really unlikeable. Either way, there are only two really likeable people out of the main cast: Troy because he’s relatable and Sharpay because she’s just tons of fun. I find Ryan a little charming sometimes, but not as much as Troy and Sharpay. Overall, they entire cast is very ambitious and cheerful in their performances.

I wrote this article to express my thoughts on those movies, but mainly to explore the concept of a guilty pleasure and explore my own experience with this. To what extent should we feel guilty for liking something? A film? A song? Chocolate? When someone says that they like something like Spider-Man 3, they immediately say “I’m sorry!” Well you can’t pick what you like or dislike. It’s not your fault that you like it. That you prefer blondes over brunettes. That you hate mushrooms when others do. If you like something like My Little Pony: FiM, that’s entirely fine (besides, it’s a good show, so don’t feel bad). You shouldn’t scream out your interests the whole time (or else it’ll get annoying), but you don’t need to feel ashamed of it. That’s why I don’t consider HSM3 a guilty pleasure. Because I don’t feel I should feel guilty for liking something. I don’t go crazy about it, but I do like it. I know there are some stuff to dislike about the franchise, but I like it anyway. Yeah, probably people are gonna continue to bully me or whatever, but I know others who support my interests as well. We shouldn’t allow anyone to tell you what you should like or shouldn’t like (which is kind of the message of the first film itself). I guess I learned something important in my experience. All of us should learn something important, not in these films necessarily, but in what we like: that of respecting one’s interests, and that of understanding and being proud your own.

I’m all about writing my personal thoughts on film through discussing film topics or recent news and writing reviews on recent or old/classic films. These are my thoughts on film as a film student and a film lover, as well as some other random topics. I am also passionate about singing and writing!