Of all the movies I could discuss from the summer, why am I choosing this one? I could go into the increasingly symbolic properties of “Harry Potter.” I could tell you why “Transformers” was better the second and third times I saw it. I could ask why Bret Ratner is allowed to market his movies as “a Bret Ratner film.” But I won’t. The movie I’m talking about wasn’t even in theaters. It’s “High School Musical,” and it’s ridiculous.

Trevor Campbell
Wholesome is the new raunchy. (COURTESY OF DISNEY)

Since I haven’t watched the Disney Channel since they stopped rerunning “Duck Tales,” I hadn’t heard anything about the original film until a house of 21-year-old women I know started obsessing over it. They had the soundtrack, which they looped all day, and whenever the movie was on TV they stopped whatever they were doing (class included) and watched it dutifully.

Bewildered and somewhat disturbed, I managed to avoid the issue until this summer when the hype that came with the sequel became too deafening to ignore. My responsibility as film editor of the Daily (it’s on TV but it’s a film nonetheless) became clear, so I set my Tivo to record one of the 24 times the two movies played during the week on Disney.

I liked it.

I was stunned when my foot tapped to such songs as “Breaking Free” and “We’re All in This Together” and found myself really worried that Troy would screw up his chances with Gabriella and that Sharpay was going to win the talent show. And in the sequel, when Troy sang about forgetting who he was? Man, I felt that.

Apparently I wasn’t alone. A massive 17.2 million other people quickly made the sequel the most watched made-for-TV movie of all time. If they each had paid $8.50 for a movie ticket that night, that’s close to a $150 million opening weekend. No doubt the discounted children’s tickets would have knocked down that sum considerably, but regardless, this was one of the most successful movies of the summer and it wasn’t shown on a single theater screen.
People are calling it the “Grease” of our generation, and that strikes me as accurate. It’s been a long time since a musical has been fun for everyone who watches it, not just select cliques of Broadway enthusiasts.

Although Zac Efron may look like an over-tanned pixie, he is a suitable lead as Troy. Who knows if he can actually sing – the entire movie is lip-synching – and who knows if he can actually act, but he’s likeable enough, and his winning smile has propelled him to the cover of Tiger Beat every week since the original movie debuted last year.

The rest of the cast is affable. Vanessa Hudgens, as Efron’s better half (and they’re dating in real life – how precious), consistently bubbles with joy like she just got licked by a puppy. Even the villain, Sharpay (played by the hot-in-certain-lighting Ashley Tisdale) turns good at the end of each movie, when everyone learns their respective lessons and explains them in one last massive song and dance number.

Yeah, it’s kind of embarrassing, but whatever, it’s fun. Not every movie has to be of substance. Once in a while a little bit of fluff is just what we need. Sometimes you want to watch a movie where you’re 100 percent sure everything will work out in the end. The guy will get the girl and the home team will make the last basket at the buzzer. It’s a Disney Channel original movie – this is the way it has to be.

It’s also kind of a return to innocence. When’s the last time you watched something with no sex, no violence and no swearing that entertained you? That may sound loaded, but think about it. The happy couple doesn’t even kiss in the first movie; the only violent scene is someone yelling in Zac Efron’s face about “gettin’ his head in the game.” And swearing? Someone calls Gabriella “Einsteinette” once.

It’s all too upbeat not to enjoy at least a little bit, and with an inevitable third chapter due sometime in the next year, the phenomenon is perpetuating itself in a “Saw”-like fashion and will be around until you can’t stand hearing about it anymore. That may have already happened for some of you, but others will be waiting. As for me, I wouldn’t say I care too much one way or the other. But if Tivo records it, hey, I might just watch it.

Tassi doesn’t understand that admitting he liked “Transformers” is worse than his love letter to “High School Musical.” E-mail him at tassi@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *