If you've caught...well, any of the teen flicks that were churned out at the tail end of the '90s, picture any one of those with a stack of giddy teen-pop songs chucked around every few minutes. Troy (Zac Efron) is just trying to shoot some hoops with his father-slash-coach as the last few hours of a family vacation dwindle to a close, but he's dragged out of the gym and shoved on-stage to belt out some karaoke with Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), an adorable mathlete type. It's a meet-cute, yeah, and they barely manage to swap phone numbers before Troy's shuttled back home to Albuquerque. Once he's skulking the halls of East High again, Troy tries to push that whole musical number out of his head. After all, the state championship is lurking in the wings, and if he's gonna lead the Wildcats to an oversized trophy, he needs to get his head back in the game.
Only...wait, who's that new girl who just transferred in? Audible gasp! It's Gabriella! Reunited 'cause it feels so good, the two of them toy with the idea of auditioning for the lead roles in East High's big winter musical, but the odds are stacked the other way. Troy shies away from stepping up on stage since jocks aren't supposed to sing, the big brains on the scholastic team are gunning for Gabriella to lead them to victory too, and snobby drama Wonder Twins Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) aren't all that keen on finally squaring off against any real competition. Since High School Musical devours pretty much every last page in the Big Book of Teen Flick Clichés, you're looking at a budding romance that's (sniffles!) torn apart, the championship coming down to one last shot with just a few seconds left on the board, all sorts of lessons about being true to yourself and what friendship really means...y'know, you've heard this song before, although that's really not the point.
Okay, so we're not talking about a dazzlingly original screenplay, but who cares? High School Musical is just a ridiculous amount of fun. They may not be seasoned actors or anything, but the clean-scrubbed cast is charming straight across the board, and the hefty stack of teen-pop songs -- everything from piano-driven ballads to samba to squeaky-shoes-hip-hop -- kept my head bobbing from start to finish. Director/choreographer Kenny Ortega keeps the pace breezing along, and the movie's propelled by such charm and wide-eyed enthusiasm from its cast that things never have a chance to drag. Even its clumsier moments wind up feeling kind of endearing. With as cute, good-natured, and unrelentingly sweet as it is, what's the point in being cynical? Recommended.
The original High School Musical made the rounds on DVD a couple of times, but the movie had always been center-cropped to the same boxy aspect ratio as its basic cable debut. The framing spreads out to 1.78:1 in high-def, though, adding more detail on the left and right of the screen. The photography isn't polished to the same glossy sheen as the sequels that'd follow, but High School Musical still looks pretty terrific on Blu-ray. There's a decent sense of clarity and detail, the palette doesn't sparkle like the following two installments but is still expectedly bright and colorful, and the faint sheen of film grain is easily shrugged off.
High School Musical belts out its soundtrack in 24-bit, uncompressed PCM 5.1, and the music really does sound great. It doesn't sport that same colossal production as either of the sequels, no, but the instrumentation is clear and distinct, the vocals are sparklingly clean, and it's backed by a tight, punchy low-end. Since the movie really was just geared towards the small screen, the mix sticks predominately to the front speakers, reserving the surrounds for some light atmospheric color. This is a solid track, though.
Disney has piled on a sprawling selection of Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks: English, French, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Dutch. The long list of subtitles includes streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Finnish, and Icelandic.
It kind of goes without saying that the bulk of the extras are anchored around the music. There are five videos -- "I Can't Take My Eyes Off of You", "We're All in This Together" (including a second video for the remix), "Breaking Free (Remix)", and "Eres Tu" -- along with a color-coded subtitle track that belts out all of the lyrics as the movie unspools. The cast of High School Musical piles into the gym for a dancealong to "Get'cha Head in the Game" and "We're All in This Together", showing off some of the key moves step-by-step. Director Kenny Ortega turns up with a couple of dancers to do the same with "Bop to the Top", and mashing a button on your remote will hop from one angle to another if you're holding out for a better view.
"Bringing It All Together" spends eight minutes breezing through the eclectic stack of music in the movie, the casting process, recording the soundtrack, hammering out the choreography, and the grueling weeks of rehearsals. Rounding out the extras are a quick peek at the red carpet for High School Musical's first DVD release and a chat with the cast about how heading up a pop culture phenomenon has so completely changed their lives.
All of High School Musical's extras are served up in standard definition, by the way.
The Final Word
I know I'm not exactly the Disney Channel's target demo, but I'm still hopelessly charmed by the cute, cheerful, and unrelentingly poppy High School Musical. The extras are kind of lean for this sort of pop culture juggernaut, but it's still a decent set and an easy purchase for the tens of millions of fans of the franchise. Recommended.