Following up on last year's pop culture phenomenon, High School Musical 2 debuted on The Disney Channel to an audience of more than 17 million screaming tweens, making it the most watched basic cable broadcast ever on these shores. The soundtrack was the first for a TV movie to leap straight to the top of Billboard's charts, staying at the top spot for a month straight and still selling strong as I write this. DVDs, live tours, dolls, T-shirts, lunchboxes, magazines, novels, video games -- after dominating pretty much every other conceivable form of media, why not give a high-def release on Blu-ray a shot?
Not so much a high school musical this time around, the sequel kicks off as East High lets out for the summer, and most of the gang is fretting about where they're going to work for the next few months. Troy (Zac Efron) is particularly worried about what he's going to do after his senior year -- he may be East High's star basketball player, but landing a scholarship isn't a sure thing, and he wants to squirrel away as much money as he can for college in the meantime. But hey, on the upside, his cute-as-a-button girlfriend Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) is sticking around for the summer, giving them a few months straight to dote over each other. Meanwhile, spoiled millionairess Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) wants to dig her claws into Troy, scheming to get him a job at her parents' posh country club and snatch him away from Gabriella. Sharpay tells the club's manager, Mr. Fulton (Mark L. Taylor), to do whatever it takes to get Troy into a pressed shirt and pants at Lava Springs, and...well, what does it take? Just about half the school winding up on the club's payroll.
Sharpay's miffed that so many of the Wildcats are hanging around her stomping grounds for the summer; they're just that much more competition for the talent show she and her doting brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) have dominated five years running, not to mention Gabriella's stint as a lifeguard making it tougher for Sharpay to get her hands on Troy. Since she can't have her classmates canned outright, Sharpay forces Mr. Fulton to make their lives so unbearable that they'll just up and quit. Her nefarious little scheme seems to be paying off -- her father has buddied up to Troy, and with a hefty bump in pay, a full ride to the University of Albuquerque, and pick-up games with a bunch of the school's basketball players dangled in front of him, Troy isn't making time for Gabriella or his pals from East High anymore. Sharpay also shoves her brother-slash-dance-partner Ryan to the sidelines, saddling up next to Troy for the big number at the talent show and swiping the song the Wildcats were going to perform.
So...gasp! Two scoops of drama. Another musical number every few minutes. Lotsa lessons about friendship and responsibility and being true to yourself. I know I'm not exactly the target demographic for High School Musical 2, being male, pushing thirty, and a smarmy former college radio DJ and all, but I kinda liked it. I'm not saying I'll be first in line when High School Musical 3 makes its bow in theaters next year or anything, but this first sequel is exactly what it sets out to be -- cute, inoffensive, and ridiculously catchy. A lot of its success is really owed to this particular cast of kids, some of whom admittedly shine more at dancing and singing than acting, but they all have a heckuva lot of charisma and play off each other exceptionally well. Nah, the overall story isn't exactly paving new ground, and some numbers like Troy's intense, emotional solo are unintentionally goofy, but that's not the point. The dance-pop and pre-fab weepy ballads are peppered with whale-sized hooks, the ornate choreography in the musical numbers is big and booming, and there's just a wide-eyed, good-natured innocence and contagious pep that keeps High School Musical 2 zipping along.
I guess I'm apologizing in advance if you were hoping to click on this review and chow down on a double-sized portion of snark. I'm not saying that High School Musical 2 is the apex of modern cinema or anything, but I do think it's exactly what it sets out to be -- cute, really marketable, and a big mess of fun. This Blu-ray release also serves up an extended version of the musical, tossing in at least one new musical number and...I have no idea what else. But it's extended! The cover says so.
Video: Aside from three quick high-def airings on one of DirecTV's special event channels, High School Musical 2 has always been screened at 4x3, with the left and right edges of the frame lopped off. Even the DVD stuck with that same boxy framing, but this Blu-ray disc expands the candy-colored cinematography out to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Presented in 1080p and encoded with Disney's preferred AVC codec, High School Musical 2 is a knockout on Blu-ray. Its hypersaturated colors leap off the screen: the lush, green grass on the golf course, the azure New Mexico sky, and the eye-popping pinks that flood just about every square inch of the screen when Sharpay strolls into the frame. The image is immaculately detailed, sporting that three dimensional pop that gearheads are so keen on gushing over. (Actually, the high-def visuals are so detailed that it's that much clearer how no one in the backing band is actually connecting with their instruments.) A couple of moments in an otherwise razor sharp presentation have a slightly fuzzy look to them, particularly in the first few minutes of the movie, although it's not a persistent problem. A bit of film grain gives some of the backgrounds a faintly noisy appearance here and there, but it's never intrusive, and no speckling or nasty compression hiccups were spotted at any point throughout.
An awful lot of the home theater forums I lurk around were littered with posts asking "High School Musical 2 on Blu-ray? Why?" Well, give the disc a spin, and you'll get your answer pretty quickly. High School Musical 2 is another in a long, long line of tremendous high-def presentations from Disney.
Audio: It kinda goes without saying that High School Musical 2's sound design is anchored around the oodles of musical numbers throughout this uncompressed, 24-bit 5.1 PCM track. With the soundtrack teeming with dance-pop, the subwoofer's kept thumping throughout, and the surrounds nicely reinforce the music as well. Otherwise, the mix keeps most of the action up front, reserving the rear channels for some light ambient color. There are a couple of scattered moments where the dialogue sounds kind of flat and lifeless, but all of the line deliveries as well as the vocals in the songs are otherwise clear and distinct throughout. High School Musical 2 sounds certainly nice enough on Blu-ray, although like a lot of TV movies, the audio does sound as if it was mixed primarily with stereo in mind rather than taking full advantage of beefier home theater rigs.
Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and subtitle streams have also been included in English, French, and Spanish.
Extras: There really aren't all that many bells and whistles for such a colossally successful flick; maybe Disney's holding some of it back for a re-release down the road.
The only high definition extras of note are just scenes from the movie. The "exclusive scene" -- Sharpay showing off her glossy production of "Humuhumunukunukapha'a" (I think that's right) to Troy -- that was snipped out of the original broadcast is offered here, even though it's already in the extended cut. Also in high-def is a sing-along with the cast, dropping lyrics over each of High School Musical 2's numbers, and karaoke versions with the vocals removed are on here too if you want to grab a mic and take the lead.
Four music videos have also been included. The slower, piano-driven rendition of "You Are the Music in Me" is served up with the movie's cast, alongside a cover by a pair of Mexican artists. Nikki Yanofsky belts out "Gotta Go My Own Way" in English and that Quebecois flavor of French.
Clocking in at four minutes is a better than average gag reel, with the elaborate choreography making for a bunch of the flubs. If you've been hoping to catch a really detailed look at what went into the cast nailing all of those dance moves, you'll want to give the 'rehearsal cam' feature a peek. It's an extensive set of fly-on-the-wall rehearsal footage, showing how much time and effort goes into perfecting the choreography and designed to make it simple to go back and forth from rehearsals to the final production in the musical.
High-def trailers for Underdog and Tinkerbell open the disc, with plugs for High School Musical: The Ice Tour and the Disney Channel series Phineas and Ferb tossed in there too. The menu design is pretty straightforward, although whoever put together the timecodes together for the menus was way off on the length of this extended version of the movie.
Conclusion: With blockbuster action flicks and sci-fi epics usually hovering around the top of the high-def sales charts, it's kinda nice to see Disney whip out an unconventional choice like High School Musical 2 for Blu-ray. Chances are if you've made it this far in the review, you already know if you're buying this disc or not, but High School Musical 2's vividly saturated cinematography does sparkle in high definition, and its scores of musical numbers get a good bit more oomph and clarity from the Blu-ray release's 24-bit PCM track than a traditional DVD can belt out. Recommended.
The images scattered around this review are promotional stills and aren't meant to represent the way the movie looks in high definition.