Review of High School Musical 3: Senior Year

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The third installment in the High School Musical franchise featuring nearly a half-dozen of its principal actors, including Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens & Ashley Tisdale. The story is still set at Albuquerque's East High, where the seniors prepare to put on a spring musical. Troy (Efron) may have a shot at Juilliard, but his girlfriend Gabriella (Hudgens) is making plans for Stanford.
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Movie Review: "High School Musical 3"

-- Rating: G
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: October 24, 2008
Directed by: Kenny Ortega
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Family

The students at East Side High had to grow up sometime. In "High School Musical 3," the pains related to leaving high school behind for the college life are explored in the sugary-sweet pop fashion. Kenny Ortega creates a sanitized world where the only thing a high school student has to worry about is where to go to college. As a part of the "High School Musical" series, this installment makes the subject palatable to the young fan base that Disney, the studio behind the film, has carefully cultivated since the first TV movie version of the musical. The result is a fun little story that harkens back to the days of Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and the teen pressures in "Grease."

Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) is back in "High School Musical 3" as the jock who is dating the coolest and prettiest girl in school, Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens). Their relationship is going strong until the couple is hit with a common senior year problem of where to go to college. They could be together, but that would mean making Gabriella give up a hard-earned invitation to Stanford. Troy could try to go with her, but that would mean disappointing his father, who expects the teen to attend the University of Albuquerque. This hardship is compounded by the fact that the school drama teacher, Ms. Darbus (Alyson Reed), wants one more musical before the class leaves. Ms. Darbus throws another monkey wrench in the works by informing Troy that he is in the running for a scholarship to Julliard-much farther away from Stanford or Albuquerque than he is comfortable with.

All of these problems come to a head as the rest of the "High School Musical 3" cast goes through their own issues of prom invitations, scholarship auditions, and more. Each problem subsequently works its way out in the songs that the teen characters sing along the way. Gabriella and Troy's problems come to a head in "Walk Away" but are soon resolved in "Can I Have This Dance (Reprise)." Troy later reveals that he will go to Berkeley, which is close to Stanford and Gabrielle, but not as far away from home as Julliard.

The reminiscing among characters over the times they had in high school and the nervous wonderings about the future are all part of the course in this high school drama. Ortega teases out these themes, benefiting from an environment free of distractions, turmoil, and real high school dilemmas. From the view of his youthful audience, Ortega's high school experience exists, and, when this installment ends, just as a tween would expect it to.

That is the point of the series. "High School Musical" is not for the high school student or person looking for a real high school experience, no more than "Mary Poppins" is a saga about the true life of a nanny. The story of Troy, Gabriella, and their friends is an idealized version of the real thing that, with the help of the many musical numbers in the film, has been brought vibrantly to life onscreen.

Like the teen musicals of the 1950s, however, "High School Musical 3" does have a moral for its viewers. The first installment encouraged everyone to be themselves and explore new things. This final part of the series urges kids to follow their own dreams, despite what others may have planned. Troy, the basketball star, is pulled in several different ways by his teacher (who reveals that she applied to Julliard on his behalf), his father, his girlfriend, and the rest of his friends. In the end, he looks within himself to find the best solution that can make him happy. Yes, this is a bit of the "Afterschool Special" territory, but it is also the appropriate type of plot lesson for the type of audience viewing the film.

Disney and everyone behind the "High School Musical" series never intended for it to be such smashing success. They handled the films correctly despite the fame by ending the saga of Troy and the gang in its prime. Doing so cements the lessons in the films in the hearts of the fans. Sure, the themes could have been teased out for another generation and with another cast. Thankfully, this story is allowed to end without becoming too tired and cartoonish.

"High School Musical 3" is a treat for fans of the previous installments and lovers of the teen musical genre.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars