East High School is out for the summer, Troy and Gabriella are as happy as ever, Sharpay's up to her old tricks, and the Wildcats still have their head in the game. Yup, looks like it's time for "High School Musical 2."
The "HSM" phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down, especially not since the inevitable, highly anticipated sequel broke a series of records - 17.2 million homes tuned in for the movie's Disney Channel premiere; the album became the first TV soundtrack to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. Add in the success of the "HSM" concert tour, DVD and CD sales, and, of course, all that merchandising, and this franchise isn't going anywhere for a while.
The good news, then, is that it's a franchise that deserves to stick around. Both the original TV movie and its sequel are undeniably silly bits of kid-pop fluff, but there's a certain sweetness to this series that makes it quite lovable despite its obvious flaws. And whaddyaknow - "High School Musical 2" is actually better than the first one.
The entire cast returns for this second time around, as do director/co-choreographer Kenny Ortega and screenwriter Peter Barsocchini. This is important, as this sequel showcases a tightly knit organization; these are entertainers that work remarkably well together, and the on-screen rapport is part of what makes "HSM 2" click.
The story: It's summer vacation, and Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), and all their school pals have landed jobs at a lush country club. Ah, but the club's owned by the rich parents of spoiled siblings Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel). Sharpay - looking and behaving at her Paris Hiltoniest - is eager to separate Troy from the rest of the gang, and daddy's got the connections to do it; soon Troy is being wined and dined, the possibility of a prized college scholarship increasingly on his mind. Will Sharpay succeed in luring away Troy? Will Troy's success come at the cost of his friendships? What will become of Troy and Gabriella? And who will win this summer's all important talent show?
Yes, of course there is a talent show. How could there not be? Barsocchini's screenplay borrows liberally from a large handful of similar pop musicals, and the formula demands a big, sassy talent show performance right at the end, one that'll get all the parents standing up and cheering. The formula also dictates there will be no surprises along the way: Sharpay's schemes will come awfully close to ruining the summer, and Troy's friends will come awfully close to abandoning him forever, but you'll never once doubt things will be OK by the time the kids take the stage for their big finale.
Yes, "HSM 2" remains a big ol' sitcom dressed up as a musical (and vice versa), and as such the storyline feels all too rote. But there's plenty of fun to be had along the way. The musical interludes are pop confections that crackle, and the energy of every dance routine makes the whole thing sparkle. The sheer innocence and gee-whiz charm of the franchise has yet to fade, and so smiles come easy with every scene.
In fact, everything's improved this time around. The performers seem more assured of their talents, and the confidence gives each song that extra kick. The script, while still all too silly, feels more cohesive this time around, less cluttered. The songs are catchier, the comedy funnier, the attitudes sunnier.
The true measure of the sequel's success, of course, is by looking at the target audience. My daughter and her friends have gone absolutely bananas for this movie. To them, "High School Musical 2" is one gigantic ball of fun. And I do think they may be right.
Disney has released "High School Musical 2" on DVD in an "Extended Edition," adding ten minutes of scenes to the movie. I missed the film when it was originally broadcast, so I can't provide a proper rundown of every addition (my daughter, who may or may not be a reliable source, informs me some business involving Sharpay's father is new); the big add-on appears to be a lengthy Hawaiian luau number called "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a." Originally a deleted scene, this section is so seamlessly worked back into the picture that it's difficult to see this sequence of the story working without it.
Video & Audio
As with the previous movie, "HSM 2" sparkles in both sight and sound quality. The crisp transfer does not hide the "TV movie" look the film often has, but it always handles it ably, with bright colors (those lush southwestern landscapes!) and rich detail.
The film is presented in a 1.33:1 full screen format, maintaining its original standard TV broadcast. "HSM 2" was filmed in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio for hi-def viewing yet was framed for standard screens, so both viewing formats appear to be "correct." No cropping of any kind is evident here, and I wouldn't call this a pan-and-scan release so much as the Blu-ray version is something of a widescreen open matte.
Everything's just right about the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, which balances everything nicely. French and Spanish surround tracks are also offered (although, curiously, only dialogue is dubbed; songs remain in English). When you select either of these dubs, you will also engage a French or Spanish subtitle track that translates signage and other text. English SDH subtitles are also provided and are accessible through the menu.
A fourth language track is the karaoke track and is used for the karaoke special feature. While that feature (discussed below) only takes you to musical selections, the karaoke soundtrack is available for the entire movie (just select the audio feature on your remote while watching the film). It's essentially a complete music-and-effects track.
Let's start with that "High School Karaoke." Using optional sing-along subtitles, you can select any (or all) of the movie's twelve songs, which then play with the dialogue and singing removed. This merely takes you to the appropriate point in the film itself. Similar is the "Sing Along with the Movie" feature, which lets you pick the same songs, this time with the dialogue/singing added.
Curiously, the five-minute "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" scene is included in the bonus section as a separate deleted scene. Was there an original plan to leave this out of the movie? Why show it here, as a bonus feature, when you could just click to the movie itself?
Two songs lead to four music videos: "You Are the Music in Me" comes in both the American original and a Mexican reworking (featuring Paulina Holguin and Roger), while Nikki Yanofsky's cover of "Gotta Go My Own Way" is featured in both English and French-Canadian.
A four-minute blooper reel had my daughter howling. I thought it was cute enough.
The best of the extras by far, "Rehearsal Cam" loads you up with detailed behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage for nine of the movie's tunes, hosted by Ortega. If you choose the "Bounce to the Movie" viewing option, the disc will play the corresponding scene from the film after each rehearsal clip finishes.
A "sneak peek" at the upcoming Disney Channel cartoon "Phineas and Ferb" is an overlong commercial, but the show looks kinda neat, so it gets a pass.
The usual assortment of Disney previews rounds out the set. These previews also play as the disc loads; you can skip past them if you choose.
While not the loaded disc fans really want - no doubt a double dip is in the works - this "Extended Edition" of "High School Musical 2" has enough to please the fans. The disc is also Recommended to newcomers who want to get their heads in the game.