TWEENS everywhere, brace yourselves for another mega-dose of old-school, clean-cut, family-friendly Disney values as the whole wholesome gang return to dance, jump and sing their way through their final year at the only public high school in America that doesn't have a metal detector. As conceived by Disney, the East High of the company's mega-musical franchise bears little resemblance to any actual high school past or present, but that won't stop its legions of fans from adoring "High School Musical 3: Senior Year." Part make believe and all state-of-the-art pop production, this third installment of the hugely popular series is the first to bow on the silver screen. And "Senior Year" may be the best film of the bunch.
Kenny Ortega ("Newsies" and "Dirty Dancing"), Disney's house choreographer-director, has constructed a song-and-dance bonanza without the dirty bit. "Senior Year" is filled with a compliment of sharp, powerhouse pop melodies and show-stopping production numbers that start with a bang (the energetic ballgame opener "Now or Never") and it never lets up.
All the central characters have returned, with hunky jock, Singing basketballer Troy (Zac Efron), still deeply in love with his sweetheart brunette wallflower Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), while their hormone-free adoration for each other knows no bounds they are now facing the possibility of ending up at different colleges. She's headed for Stanford, while he's trying to decide whether to stay close to home and play ball or hold out for a possible music scholarship at Julliard. Gabriella must leave to sample life at a prospective college, meaning that Troy must endure life without her. On top of this he must also struggle with the choice between being what he wants to be and being what his slightly pushy father wants him to be. (Note: This conflict does not result in a knife fight.) With the school "musical" coming up and the prestigious arts school representatives sure to be in attendance, you know scheming diva Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) will have something up her sleeve, while her sweet and fashionably overdressed twin Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) will try to talk some sense into her.
Less dialogue in this movie leaves little room for the charm of the first of the series, but also keeps the melodrama and the limited acting skills of the cast in check. There is plenty of opportunity for the glitzy and surprisingly diverse production numbers. There is borrowing from Astaire/Rodgers (as in the graceful rooftop waltz of "Can I Have This Dance?"), or Busby Berkeley (in Sharpay and Ryan's rousing "I Want it All"), and even a little "Saturday Night Fever" nod (in "A Night to Remember"), "Senior Year" displays a colorful sense of nostalgia and a seemingly endless wellspring of creativity. (The latter being something sorely lacking in the recent "Mamma Mia" adaptation.)
The film stages saves some of it's best moments toward the end, with the junkyard hip-hop jam styles of "The Boys are Back" and Troy's tour-de-force "Scream"-which rivals any boy band video for sheer angst-driven pop performance. (A sign of things to come from the planned "Footloose" remake?). Alternately boisterous and soulful, High School Musical 3 may be stretching out 15 minutes longer than it needs to, thanks chiefly to a final reel that simply refuses to end. However, it is difficult to not feel some measure of affection for this movie, especially as we watch the kids graduate and head off to college, where they will continue their education, meet new interesting people and surely discover sex.
The third instalment of the phenomenally successful - and purely accidental - Disney film franchise is the first to hit the cinema, and while it certainly has the candy-coloured innocent charm of the first two TV movies, the strain is beginning to show as the kids work extra-hard to fill the big screen frame with their youthful energy. Whether Disney's G-rated phenomenon is your cup of tea, "High School Musical 3: Senior Year's" will create fun, inspiring entertainment on a level. The film industry certainly benefits from the release of quality films that celebrate life's fringes with a free spirit. But it may not lead to box office returns in India, where except for select few, the masses are going to give it a miss.
In India, "Senior Year" is good watch for those, fantasising on American lifestyle and planning to go for some education there (it could be a tutorial!), or for those who missed it. :-)