[Screen It]


(2006) (Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens) (TV-G)

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Musical: A high school's star athlete and class genius stun their friends, and break down clique barriers, when they become friends and decide to audition for a school musical.
By all accounts of "high school etiquette," brainy Gabriella Montez (VANESSA HUDGENS) and athletic Troy Bolton (ZAC EFRON) should run in separate circles. At least, that's the way East High School seems to be set up - different cliques, divided by different interests, rarely intermingling except to pass a bit of uninformed judgment on one another.

All that changes when Troy and Gabriella meet by chance at a New Year's Eve party, where both are tapped to enter a karaoke contest. Sparks fly, in that chaste Disney way, and Troy is thrilled a few weeks later to learn that Gabriella has been transferred to East High. When auditions for the spring musical, composed by shy Kelsi Nielsen (OLESYA RULIN) are announced, the budding lovebirds are torn between resisting their temptation to sing together again and taking a plunge out of their assumed social circles.

As they contemplate their decision, they consider a lot of variables, including how to preserve Troy's jock reputation with his best friend Chad (CORBIN BLEU) and his father (and coach), Jack (BART JOHNSON); dethroning the reigning drama club royalty, brother-sister duo Sharpay and Ryan Evans (ASHLEY TISDALE and LUCAS GRABEEL); fitting in time for Gabriella to join fellow brainiac Taylor (MONIQUE COLEMAN) in the scholastic decathlon; and outwitting batty drama teacher Ms. Darbus (ALYSON REED).

As Gabriella and Troy begin to follow their true passions, a surprising number of other students follow, revealing a host of hidden talents and toppling East High's clique structure, maybe forever.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
"High School Musical" is one of those movies that's tough to rate. For adults, the saccharin sweet, perfect-kid Disney cheerfulness that pervades this flick is almost too much to take. On the other hand, it's refreshing to sit through a movie directed at young kids where the kids are reasonably well-behaved, aren't swearing at one another, and wear clothing that covers all requisite body parts. For kids, it's an adventure, replete with catchy pop tunes, funky dance moves, and the underlying belief that you can be anything you want to be, and you shouldn't let anyone stop you from pursuing your dreams.

For its largest and most earnest audience, "HSM" offers a glimpse at a world they're probably too young to have seen yet - high school. But while the notion of racing to class amid a tangled maze of lockers and backpacks bathed in orange gym lighting may still be out of reach for these youngsters, one would be na´ve to assume they've never encountered cliques. Unfortunate, but true - most kids can tell you who's popular and who's not at a frighteningly young age. This leads to all kinds of social polarization, self-esteem issues, and the suppression of true talents and passions for fear of being "judged."

This is where "HSM" shines. Ignoring for a moment (though it's hard) the banal dialogue, syrupy smiles, and endless propensity for bursting into song, the underlying message is a valuable one: sure, everyone's different, and everyone's good at different things, but everyone is cool in their own way and you should respect that. This is displayed in a way only Disney could make believable. Kids from every "group" - the jocks, the brains, the musicians - are portrayed as three-dimensional characters, all with their own good qualities.

Far too many films geared toward kids perpetuate stereotypes about klutzy dorks with pocket protectors and wind instruments while putting the ball players on a pedestal. Quite frankly, it's even refreshing that Sharpay, in all her snobbish glory, is a drama club girl instead of a cheerleader.

While "HSM" will inspire more than a few choice eye rolls from parents, its messages are far healthier for kids, particularly at the impressionable "tween" stage, than many of its competitors. We rate this movie a 6.5 out of 10. (J Holzman)

Reviewed off DVD / Posted April 10, 2008

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