I was always strangely adverse to Disney Channel movies and shows as a kid. Some false sense of superiority, I suppose. After all, I had moved on to sophisticated adult fare like Click and You Me and Dupree when High School Musical first came out and took the world by storm. I’d cringe whenever one of my friends would start singing We’re All In This Together, wondering what the hell all the girls I liked saw in this Zack Efron guy anyway. I missed this entire cultural sensation, stripping a huge piece of my millennial nostalgia away. However, with this Friday’s release of Baywatch, Efron’s latest raunchy comedy, I’ve decided that it’s time to get my head in the game.
Thus, we begin my journey into the High School Musical trilogy with the one that started it all. I won’t even front, I enjoyed this silly thing a lot more than I expected too.
On paper, this is a rather bland story. Vanilla basketball boy meets shy math girl, they sing together, they fall in love. Blah Blah Blah. However, there’s actually a very charming amount of self-awareness here, with the film incorporating its cliched structure into the world it creates. East High is a strange place, borderline dystopian really. Every student has one thing that they can do and to break out of that is utter blasphemy. The sheer idea that basketball star Troy Bolton (Efron) would even consider auditioning for a musical is borderline blasphemous, sending the whole campus into a rumor fueled rage. I almost feel like Stick To The Status Quo isn’t just a spontaneous song and dance number, but East High’s fight song. Everybody here sticks to the stuff they know, save the whole “coming into your own” thing for college.
Troy might be the dopiest human male to ever walk the earth. He’s the captain of the basketball team because his dad is the coach. His “secret” hideout is on a rooftop atrium that’s in perfectly plain view. Hell, he even has two different singing voices. Seriously, whoever thought that Drew Seeley’s voice sounded right coming out of Efron’s mouth must have ears from another planet. Whenever Troy is singing, it’s like watching an American dub of a foreign film. All of this goofiness is perfectly matched with Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), who I’m fairly certain does not have a single personality trait beyond occasionally scanning math equations. Of course, these two fall in love. What else are they going to do?
I really need to meet whoever raised Sharpay and Ryan Evans (Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel). These two aren’t just overzealous theater kids, they’re basically pod people straight out of Stepford. They’re also quite a bit more talented than Troy and Gabriella, and truth be known, they probably should’ve gotten the roles. Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure that Chad (Corbin Bleu) has been brainwashed to believe that basketball is the only occupation a person can have on planet earth. You know that friend who can only talk about one thing and can navigate any other topic back to it, that’s Chad-y boy. Help me out next time, Chad. I want to know you.
Meanwhile, somebody needs to keep an eye on poor Zeke (Chris Warren). This poor kid just gets punked out throughout this entire movie. During Stick To The Status Quo, he reveals that he’s secretly become a baker and has perfected creme brulee, which absolutely nobody wants. Then, a mere ten minutes later, he’s literally told to evaporate by Sharpay just for asking her out. God forbid somebody gives Zeke a chance, I bet he’s a great cook. Hopefully, there is #justiceforzeke in the sequels.
The production value here goes from surprisingly well executed to hilariously awkward on a dime. I was actually rather impressed with the execution of Stick to the Status Quo and We’re All In This Together. They feel big like they were numbers out of Grease or something. However, then we have Get Your Head In The Game, which I’m convinced was choreographed on the day. It’s clear that whoever they have as the basketball team extras are not dancers, so they’re just jogging around awkwardly while Troy’s secret singing voice is belting. There are also scenes that don’t start or end right, particularly one moment in which the entire sequence is just Troy and Gabriella locking eyes and bobbing their bodies around to music that I’m pretty sure isn’t playing. My suspicion is that the sequels have more money behind them, which will perhaps lead to some more consistent numbers. Breaking Free is just a flat out solid song though, no joke.
I would never defend High School Musical as a good film but even as an adult, I had a lot of fun with it. It’s just so unapologetically earnest that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the silliness and enjoy just how absurd it is. I’ve been told that the second one is absolutely bonkers, and I won’t lie, I’m so ready.