Written by: Peter Barsocchini
Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Lucas Grabeel, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman
Falling in line to join cliques becomes part of the high school experience with common interests being the driving force of what brings people together. However, staying within said groups can be limiting and downright harmful, as seen through the incredibly memorable tunes of High School Musical. A story of two individuals from two different spectrums coming together with their bond causing a ripple effect felt around the school.
During a ski lodge trip during Winter break, Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) get forcibly paired to sing a karaoke song where they make an instant connection. Going their separate ways and returning to East High in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Troy learns Gabriella has transferred to the school and as they try to come together, they get blocked off by the different cliques trying to keep the status quo.
Starting out with relative unknowns and exploding from the start as a Disney Channel Original Movie to the third of the trilogy receiving a theatrical release, this feature became a hit with audiences. It pretty much made all of the cast members a mainstay in the hearts of the millennials who watched it growing up and with good reason. With it being a straight to television film for Disney Channel, it definitely has its deficiencies but the energy it brings with its songs and genuine substance in its story makes for a worthwhile viewing experience years later.
Seeing this film many times as a child left an impression and revisiting it for the purposes of this review shows this film very much still holds up because of its messaging about breaking free from the shackles of being in high school cliques. Heck, they have a whole musical number where people make confessions of enjoying different hobbies outside what they are known for at the school while being berated through song by the rest of their classmates. At East High, everyone belongs in a specific group and if you’re not then you’re essentially an outlaw. It’s what makes Gabriella’s first day a bit tumultuous as she was already being sized up to fit in the Scholastic Decathlon even if she just wants to get adjusted to the school before joining a group. Her reticence to join causes friction as does Troy’s sudden interest in singing, which does not vibe with what is expected by the other basketball players at the school and from his father. From a young age, all Troy wanted to be was a basketball player but Gabriella brought a shock to his system and essentially incites everything occurring in the narrative.
With none of its themes being subtle, this film hits the demographic it wants by making its intention incredibly clear. Yes, you can be a basketball player and be an avid baker. Nothing except the pressure of your peers stands in the way and hopefully, this film gave the opportunity for many young teens to learn this as well.
The biggest takeaway from this feature comes from the glorious songs, which have withstood the test of time thus far. I would be willing to wager that if you stick a microphone in the face of the average millennial a hefty percentage of them could recite one of the many songs featured in this musical. From “Start of Something New,” “Breaking Free,” “Bop to the Top” among others, this film is filled to the brim with bops, for a lack of a better term. They’re all incredibly catchy and advance the story, as any song within a musical should. “Getcha Head in the Game” features probably the most complex choreography the film has to offer and pretty much anyone who watched this film tried to emulate the dance for “We’re All in this Together.” These songs are still rolling through my mind as I write this review because of their impact.
Where the acting by these young performers lack they make up for it in bringing a sense of unbridled joy in this musical. It gave the world its introduction to exceptional talents like Zac Efron who has blown up into a big star and told a story about a sensitive basketball player trying to find out what he loves in life as opposed to whatever he was preordained to love from his father. All culminating in a day of madness from three major events happening at the exact same time, which could not possibly ever happen at a real high school, but it adds all of the necessary drama for these characters to break free from their cliques and be themselves.