I confess to being a High School Musical
virgin, but I’ve always admired the way the franchise's first two made-for-TV's Disney Channel installments became cultural phenomena despite altogether bypassing standard theatrical distribution. Jumping in with the third presents no continuity problems in terms of picking up the plotline: The teens from the previous two films are getting the inevitable heave-ho from high school, and they weigh their futures while younger classmates are introduced into the mix (HSM4
is already in the works). And all the while, they burst into song and dance with a frenzy that's almost beyond human. The music (by David Lawrence) is heavy on the power ballads and fairly undistinguished, but the dancing … oh my goodness. Director/choreographer Ortega is the best thing to happen to movie musicals since the imaginations of Gene Kelly (Singin' in the Rain
) and Bob Fosse (Cabaret
) separately bedazzled the cinema stage. Ortega, who also directed the first two films in the series, seizes the possibilities afforded by the big screen and pushes the frame to its outer limits. Full of color, energy, precision, and creativity, Ortega's choreography unleashes the true spirit of movie musicals, which exist to remind us that if the beat is right, it can't be wrong. Dramatically, you'd have to be a member of the movie's young demographic to care or gauge how this installment compares with the previous two. There are the young, chaste lovers who are about to be separated by college, a basketball captain torn between attending his dad's alma mater or pursuing a career in the theatre, and the class bitch who's handed most of the film's comedy material. Teenthrob Efron will be missed in future episodes by both adolescent girls and their moms who are only too happy to accompany their daughters to the theatre, but he's a handsome talent who's graduated to bigger projects. (Look for him in Richard Linklater's upcoming film, Me and Orson Welles
.) Meanwhile, the kids will continue to keep the beat.