The 2006 Disney Channel film "High School Musical" was a smash success for the cable network and deservedly so. A bright, festive pop concoction with earnestness to spare, the movie captured the elusive fantasy of musical showmanship, along with a serious dose of puppy love to bewitch the tween audience. "Musical" was a hunk of Mouse House cheese, but it was a well-crafted hunk of cheese, remaining firmly in character against all odds, handing the salivating target demographic enough singing and dancing to launch even the sourest of spirits skyward. A sequel went from a lofty dream to an inevitability.
The school year is finally over at East High and Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), and Chad (Corbin Bleu) are on the hunt for jobs. Finding group employment at the Lava Springs golf resort, the gang encounters nemesis Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and her brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) as demanding guests at the vacation retreat, making life miserable. This summer, Sharpay has her eyes set on Troy, as both an object of lust and a singing partner for the resort variety show. Showering him with attention from her rich parents and college basketball scouts, Sharpay's influence starts to change Troy, alienating him from his beloved friends, soon threatening his blossoming relationship with Gabriella.
"High School Musical 2" picks up right where the last picture left off, returning focus to the hearts and minds of teenagers filtered through the Disney perspective. This franchise specializes in harmless fluff, but where the original film stepped carefully with its unsophisticated courage, the sequel knows exactly what ingredients are required to stimulate the faithful. The newfound consciousness turns "Musical 2" into a louder, more colorful, assertive motion picture. It lacks the heart of the previous movie, replacing flecks of gummied schmaltz with startling production luster.
Director and celebrated choreography maestro Kenny Ortega doesn't alter the elements that made "Musical" such a phenomenon, he simply amplifies everything to a point of combustion. "Musical 2" offers more passionate songs, heightened performances, and personal reflection than ever before, with Ortega abusing the opportunity a hit invites to indulge his more expensive visual whims. Some of the bolder numbers (executed with fantastic, full-body choreography), including Sharpay's Hawaiian-themed "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a," showcase a rewarding broadening of comedic and musical chops. However, the modesty of the preceding film is missing, with "Musical 2" assuming the audience wasn't looking for tenderness all over again, only pushy comedy velocity.
I suppose my trouble with "Musical 2" originates with the creative decision to boost Sharpay's role in the story at the cost of Gabriella's. While a rather unexpectedly capable comedic actress, Tisdale's spoiled Paris Hilton riff was a perfectly metered supporting part in "Musical," acting as the atypical bit of acid in a terribly sweet film. For the sequel, Tisdale has been promoted to leading status, flush with new Ortega direction to ham it up at top volume. The act grows wearying quickly, especially when Hudgens, the virginal center of the franchise, is demoted to an extended cameo in her own movie. The Troy and Gabriella romantic arc is only marginally regarded in the screenplay, existing purely as a hurdle for Troy's quivering principles and a giggle point for young female viewers as the couple struggle to find a time to work in some smooching. Sharpay's insistence that it's her world as we're all just living in it comes dangerously close to reality in "Musical 2."
The "Deluxe Dance Edition" comes to DVD with a full frame presentation, mimicking original broadcast standards. With a blinding color scheme and a general upbeat temperament, the "Musical 2" presentation is a pleasing experience. Black levels are consistent during evening scenes and post-production color tinkering is nicely corralled, leaving fleshtones and the expansive Utah locations free of confusion.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix on "Musical 2" is a stunner, but not directly rewarding. The music numbers hold the greatest power on the DVD, and when they arrive the whole aural experience bursts through the speakers, necessitating the annoying practice of riding the volume knob constantly. Fidelity is superb, but the contrast between dialogue and performance is massive. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are offered as well.
English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles are included.
"Bloopers" (4:11) displays the crazy mix-em-ups of the cast, with a giggly Tisdale taking center stage.
"Music Videos" include "You Are the Music in Me" (USA/Mexico versions) and "Gotta Go My Own Way" (Canada-French, Canada-English versions).
"Sing Along With the Movie" presents the songs of the film karaoke-style, with lyrics at the bottom of the screen.
"Rehearsal Cam" (35:49) observes the three-week-long preparation period for the dance numbers of "Musical 2." Under the watchful eye of director Ortega and his posse of choreographers, the viewer can watch the development of the dancing, warts and all.
"Deleted Scenes" (4:19) includes a few unfinished moments, most concerning poolside antics.
"More Music Videos" (24:11) heads even deeper into international waters, assembling "Musical 2" videos from all over the world, including a Japanese animated piece with the cartoon critter Stitch.
"Dance Along" is actually an extensive DVD experience that showcases the actors teaching the viewer the footwork of the film. Using a variety of practice speeds and angles, it's assured slumber party mayhem for years to come.
"High School Confidential" (30 minutes) tackles the filming of "Musical 2" with a specific Disney Channel sheen, breaking up the production into digestible nuggets of information. It's very fluffy material, but it does provide a snapshot of the shoot and the enthusiasm of the cast and crew. Also included are a round of the "Who's That Baby?" game and a photo gallery.
"The Making of 'Humuhumunukunukuapua'a'" (5:30) highlights to struggle to put this tongue-twisting musical number together.
"Cast Favorites" (4:32) grills the cast on their personal choices in music, food, school subjects, and recreation.
"On Location" (4:17) meets up with cast member Kaycee Stroh to observe the film shoot in Utah.
"In The Kitchen" (4:14) breaks down the effort to put the Stomp-inspired "Work This Out" number together.
And finally, a "Sneak Peek at 'High School Musical 3: Senior Year'" (3:04) gives the fans a reward for their patience: a brief glimpse of the upcoming sequel.
Imparting important messages of friendship stability and personal choice between the electro-frosted tunes, "Musical 2" is equal to its predecessor in terms of a sugary Disney template, sold emphatically by the capable cast. Efron especially goes for the throat with his spastic reactions and pronounced old-Hollywood energy, fully extracted in the barnstorming solo number "Bet on It." "High School Musical 2" might be too self-aware for its own good, but the musical theater contact high of the franchise is protected to a pleasing degree, keeping the East High Wildcat basics satisfied while the rest of the film basks in the glow of startling success.