High School Musical 3: The Critic's Review

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Fred Hayes / Disney Enterprises Inc. / AP

From left, Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron, Ashley Tisdale and Jason Williams in High School Musical 3

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It's safe to say that, if you're reading this review, the movie's not for you. Anyone over nine can expect the movie's antiseptic energy to get enervating; G rating can be grating. The long dialogue scenes, meant to create the Act II Troy-Gab separation that will be resolved in Act III, often devolve into logorrhea. Tip to parents and kids: when the two leads start talking seriously, go for your popcorn and pee breaks.

Thing is, all these criticisms could have been made about what we now think of as the great Astaire-Rogers musicals of the 1930s — Top Hat, Swing Time and the rest. Who cares if the stories were lame, the characters cardboard? When Fred and Ginger danced, it was swellegant, elegant, divine.

In HSM3, the choreography (by Ortega, Charles Klapow and Bonnie Story) has some of Astaire's formal inventiveness. As Gabriella sings the separation ballad Walk Away, as she leaves her house to head for an early course at Stanford, pictures on the wall slowly disappear to suggest that the life she's leaving behind may have been just a sweet dream. In Troy's separation song, Scream, his world goes literally topsy-turvy, rotating like the room whose walls and ceiling Astaire danced on in Royal Wedding. For Fred it was a lark; for Troy, the agony of a kid having to make his first meaningful decision.

Most of the dances aren't duets but ensembles — like I Want It All, a power-pop workout that dresses its dancers in red or white (the East High school colors) against a black background. These group efforts expend every ounce of verve in the several dozen young terpers in the chorus; they numbers are full of aerobics and acrobatics, as if this were P.E. class at the Fame school. At the end, dancers and audience collapse in mutual exhaustion-exhilaration.

Most of the 11 new songs are only serviceable. Nothing quite matches We're All in This Together, the anthem from the first HSM, which is repeated here in a more liturgical version, as if the young Phil Spector had remixed the You-Know-Which Tabernacle Choir. But the title number, sung at the end by the company, locates some of the separation anxiety of the mid-teen years. The music is perky, the undertone poignant: "I just hope the rest of my life / Will feel as good as my / High school musical, who says we have to let it go? It's the best part we've ever known. Step into the future, but hold on to / High school musical."

This is a movie that packs more solemn, sodden farewells into the last 10 mins. than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King did in its final half-hour. (Hey, guys, you're going off to college, not Iraq.) The climactic gravity is meant to threaten the kids that their beloved franchise may be no more. Yet we know that a fourth High School Musical is already in the works? And can Disney's theatrical arm possibly resist sending their golden goose to Broadway? After all, Mary Poppins is playing just down the block from the Empire Theatre.

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