“I want the rest of my life to feel just like a High School Musical.”
This is it kids, we’re in the big leagues now. Our iconic troupe of theater jocks is about to graduate from East High and have managed to grow out of the small screen. I suspect that this film was a bittersweet experience for the kids of the day. Not only because it definitively sends off its characters, but because the entire narrative essentially hinges on moving on from a certain phase in your life and looking forward to what’s ahead. Everybody involved has a refreshing reverence for the sensation they’ve created and essentially made a film about what it was like to go on that journey. Of course, that journey involves plenty of the bawdy musical numbers and dopey romance that the series ultimately hangs its hat on, for better or worse.
Let’s talk about Troy and Gabriella first, because things are getting a little unhealthy there. See, Gabriella’s been accepted to a Stanford honors program but is debating staying behind for Troy. Makes sense, as these two can’t seem to spend a minute away from each other these days. Somewhere between the last film and this one, they became uncontrollably attached at the hip. There are three ballads that essentially deal with these two being obsessively in love and I won’t lie, it’s a little off-putting. Imagine just hanging out with these two while they’re constantly breaking out into song about how they only want to be with each other. You’d be uncomfortable, don’t even lie. It gets to the point where Troy drives in his “broken” car for thousands of miles to Stanford just to bring Gabriella back for prom. Stalker alert.
That relationship takes up so much time that the rest of the cast gets a bit sidelined into being a part of the film’s admittedly clever plot device. See, this year’s play is a recounting of their senior year, incorporating all of the film’s musical numbers. So, we’re watching the characters actually make the High School Musical they’ve been a part of for the last three films. It’s a fun idea, especially when we’re watching Sharpay desperately try to grab onto what may be her last rays of the spotlight. The play related numbers really work, with a faux prom dance being the highlight.
The musical numbers that aren’t Troy/Gabriella ballads are even bigger than before and take us to a couple of strange places. Perhaps the oddest is The Boys Are Back, where Troy and Chad relive their memories of playing imagination games as kids…in a junkyard. Yes, somehow nobody noticed that two children spent hours playing near heavy machinery. If that wasn’t weird enough, they beat up a sentient car with sticks, dance with a group of meth heads living in the cars and even transform into their younger selfs as car parts dance for them. It’s more like The Boys Are Baked, really.
Then, we have yet another Troy Bolton stress dance that makes Bet On It look chill by comparison. For Scream, we can’t just have Troy spazzing around, we have to spin the room he’s spazzing in around. That’s right, High School Musical 3 and Inception basically share the same scene. As he yells to the heavens, lightning bolts go off behind him as if he is talking to God himself. It’s hard not to get caught up in it though, with Efron literally throwing himself completely into it. Hopefully, Troy doesn’t ever need to work out major life epiphanies when he’s working in an office.
There’s also an odd subplot involving freshman students that doesn’t really go anywhere. We have Jimmie (Matt Prokop), who harbors a strange obsession with Troy while wearing stinky cologne and Tiara (Jemma McKenzie-Brown), Sharpay’s new assistant. They’re not really given enough time to have any personality and by this point, it’s hard to care about new characters. Hell, I don’t even remember even noticing that freshmen were alive in my senior year of high school, but I suppose that’s Disney world for you. It’s a somewhat nagging attempt to set up a new iteration of the franchise and it falls pretty flat.
The finale is largely satisfying and sends off the characters in gloriously cheesy fashion. At the end of the day, even though there have been some bumps along the way, these kids are all friends. It’s heartwarming to see them acknowledge that with their graduation dance. It even ends with a literal certain call where they re-create the famous freeze frame jump from the first one. Perhaps it’s just the wuss in me but it even made me a little emotional. As cheesy as these films are, they have made me care about these silly people, which is more than I could’ve expected. No matter if we’re looking ahead to or backward at High School, it becomes romanticized as a simpler time. A time where no matter if you were facing breakups, SATs, college applications or anything in between, you had friends to get you through. This series is the big, silly embodiment of that and it’s really no wonder why so many people decided to become Wildcats with the class of 2008.