“High School Musical 3: Senior Year”
Walt Disney
At Showcase and Quality 16

Courtesy of Disney

3 out of 5 stars

From the very first scene of “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” (“HSM3”) — spectators at a basketball game perform, without flaw, an impressive display of school spirit — it’s obvious that East High isn’t just any ordinary high school. The students are cute, perky and apt to break into song and dance on cue. The cafeteria doubles as a stage for show-stopping musical numbers and no one has to study — they just need to know how to make jazz hands.

“HSM3” is the first of the series to make it to the big screen. The first two films aired on the Disney Channel, home of tween powerhouses like Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers. In the third film, the premise is basically the same as before: A group of friends try to balance parental expectations, friendships and, most importantly, personal dreams.

While the film’s plot doesn’t deviate far from the other installments, the production value of “Senior Year” has been supersized: The sets are flashier, the costume changes are numerous and even hair and makeup look better. The actors are still young enough to look about 18, but high schools kids rarely look this polished.

Nevertheless, the effort put into the visual aspects of the movie was not without reason. Despite the cast’s most energetic efforts, the acting skill of the group is sub-par at best. But true to most of The Disney Channel’s recent fare, promises of Oscar-worthy performances have never been necessary. The previous films won their fans with the glitz and glamour of the whole “High School Musical” package — poppy songs, Crest-white smiles and dance moves that have spawned thousands of YouTube replications. While “Senior Year” misses the mark a few times — one solo performance by Zac Efron (“Hairspray) is so scarily reminiscent of “Flashdance,” one might expect a bucket of water to drop from the ceiling at any moment — the musical numbers are fun and catchy.

Despite the fact that Efron and Vanessa Hudgens (“Thunderbirds”) are a couple in real life, the presence of their onscreen romance as Troy and Gabriella is relatively weak compared to the glitter and showiness that have come to define the HSM series. Troy and Gabriella spend a large amount of the film fawning over each other, worried about their impending split after graduation. While that depiction of high school love may be true to form, it isn’t very interesting. The real attention grabber of the film is Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale, TV’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”). Tisdale, who seems extremely aware of the films’ cheesiness, plays Sharpay as a pseudo-Paris Hilton drama queen, complete with over-the-top pink outfits and a tiny dog. Efron and Hudgens may get the most screen time, but Tisdale steals the show.

“Senior Year” isn’t a film of subtlety — a fight between son and father is soundtracked with rolling thunderstorms, and rain always precedes tough decisions throughout the film — but it doesn’t need to be. After all, in high school, first loves are forever, prom is the most magical event of one’s life and college picks are life-changing decisions. Basically, no one is more dramatic than a teen going through his or her last year of high school. The film is fluffy entertainment chock-full of positive messages. In the end, sometimes it’s nice to have a happy ending, and “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” gives us just that.

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