51numddxtul_sl500_aa240_That high-pitched squeal you hear belongs to the millions of young girls screaming at the release of Disney’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year Extended Edition today on DVD. This third film in the series was the first to be presented in movie theaters after two mega-successful TV movies (for those of you unaware, the original High School Musical premiered on the Disney Channel in January of 2006 and was an instant success). The first movie introduced us to high school heartthrob Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), the captain of the basketball team and all-around good guy, who falls for the new girl, Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens). They both secretly audition for the spring musical, much to the chagrin of their friends, the school drama queen, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and her flunkie brother, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel). Once their secret is revealed, their friends come between them, only to realize their mistake and come together to get the two lovebirds to the final auditions before it’s too late. Routine material, I know, but saccharine fun nonetheless. High School Musical 2 (2007) followed the same gang of friends the following summer to a posh country club (and more musical mayhem). For the third film, everyone is about to graduate, and they decide to come together one last time for one final spring musical.

I enjoyed HSM 3 a lot. I wouldn’t call it a great movie; in fact, it’s pretty cheesy most of the time — but it’s fun for children and parents alike. Whether I liked it or not doesn’t matter — I’m not the target audience, i.e. one of the young girls and boys who have followed the exploits of these characters since the first High School Musical. Still, as a fan of movie musicals in general, I have to say that this film succeeds on many levels, making it just as enjoyable as, say, Hairspray or Mamma Mia! (both fun, albeit silly, films). And it certainly is much more entertaining than Tim Burton’s hatchet job of Sweeney Todd and even the Academy Award-winning Chicago. In fact, Chicago always comes to mind when I watch these High School Musical films because I feel that director/choreographer Kenny Ortega has a better grasp of what a musical should look and feel like than the over-hyped Chicago.

Ortega is the key to the success of these High School Musical films. Not only does he direct teenagers well and elicit decent performances from most of them, he also has a keen sense for coming up with the right choreography to fit his actors’ styles and personalities (or, in the case of Hudgens, to cover that she doesn’t have much rhythm). Moreover, he knows exactly how to film and edit a dance number, making it pop off the screen with excitement. Case in point is the musical number “The Boys Are Back,” in which Efron and his on-screen best bud, Corbin Bleu, reminisce about their childhood while dancing through a junkyard. The entire sequence is an upbeat romp that shows off the skills of Efron and Bleu, and keeps us glued to the screen and cheering for the entire number. I’m not sure what Ortega has planned next; rumor has it he may direct Efron in the planned musical remake of Footloose. If there has to be someone to fill Kevin Bacon’s dancing sneakers, I’ll buy Efron. And if it has to be the Broadway version of Footloose, I’ll gladly buy a ticket to that film if Ortega is directing.

Everything about HSM3 is squeaky clean fun, with Efron and Hudgens representing the new millennium’s Frankie and Annette. All of these young actors have created likable characters (even the antagonists) which is a tribute to the talent they have. We’ve already seen Efron branch out into non-Disney roles in Hairspray and the upcoming 17 Again, while Lucas Grabeel showed real potential in Milk. Hudgens has a sweet singing voice and already has a successful recording career, and Tisdale could have a real future as a comic actress. Having seen the trilogy from the beginning and experienced the phenomenon with my two children, I got a little choked up throughout HSM3, watching these characters who have lived in my house (on television) preparing to graduate from high school and these films.

One final note: A few years back I attended a father/daughter dance with my daughter. I was appalled when the DJ began playing Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” and all of the tweenage girls not only knew the song by heart, but they knew the suggestive dance moves that went along with it. It was at that moment that I realized that not only was I happy that these High School Musical films were introducing kids to movie musicals and music in general, but they were also doing it in a gentle way that wasn’t exploitative or gross. As a parent, I appreciate that these films are trying to preserve some of the innocence of childhood. So, no matter how cheesy and how bad some of the acting may be, I will always have a soft spot for Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay, Ryan and the rest of the West High gang. Go Wildcats!

The two-disc extended edition DVD of HSM3 includes deleted scenes, bloopers, and a singalong version of the movie, as well as a digital download of the film for storage on your computer or portable device.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year Extended Edition is available through Amazon.

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