The other two High School Musicals stuck with a triple-underlined "be proud of who you are!" moral message, but this movie is set during senior year when the question gets to be "...but what is that, exactly?" Troy's pop thinks he knows what's best for his son (Zac Efron): a free ride to his alma mater at the University of Albuquerque, and that's where his buddy Chad (Corbin Blue) has already decided to set up shop. C'mon, they're back to back basketball champions! The lockers at U of A already have their names on 'em! The downside...? It's a world removed from Stanford, the school Troy's girlfriend Gabriela (Vanessa Hudgens) has spent a lifetime swooning over. Troy hasn't mustered up the nerve to tell his father that he's being courted by other schools, and much to his surprise, even Juilliard is considering giving him a look. Yup: the impossibly prestigious School for the Performing Arts is offering a scholarship to the East High student who dazzles them the most on-stage as Kelsi (Olesya Rulin) hammers out one last musical. Even with everything else they're juggling senior year, the chance to put on one last show -- together! -- is just too irresistable to pass up. Ditto for that free ride to Juilliard, which Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale)
By this stage in the game, you really ought to know what to expect from a High School Musical flick, and this bigger budget sequel cranks up everything that made the franchise such a colossal success. The choreography in the musical numbers can be jaw-dropping, eclipsing anything from the two Disney Channel movies. The Broadway-inspired fantasies -- complete with neon, whirling stages, and a half-battalion of dancers -- are particularly spectacular showstoppers. Even though the songs aren't as infectious as usual -- the soundtrack seems to skew more heavily towards ballads this time around -- they're certainly catchy enough, and the production is much more polished and lavish. It kind of goes without saying that the franchise is as endearingly corny and unrelentingly charming as ever too.
I'll admit to being caught off-guard by some of the changes High School Musical took while bounding to the big screen, though, especially just how downbeat the story could get. The first two movies were all about wide-eyed giddiness, but High School Musical 3 reflects the difficult decisions and uneasy transitions that tag along with being a senior in high school. Since most of the cast is graduating from High School Musical themselves three movies in, a few new faces have been shoehorned in just in case another sequel gets the green light, and none of them have the same spark as any of the original kids. It's still a heckuva lot of fun, though, and I found myself surprised more than a couple of times just how quickly the movie's two hour runtime breezed by.
I really do like the High School Musical series: a cute, charming, sweetly sincere fantasy for the junior set and a guilty pleasure for more of us than we'd probably like to admit. Even though I'd still point to the first movie as the best of the bunch, High School Musical 3 builds on one of the most colossal pop culture phenomenons of the past ten years and gives the franchise's original cast the sendoff they deserve. Recommended.
The first installment in the franchise to splash across the big screen, High School Musical 3 is much glossier and more cinematic than either of the first two movies. Detail and dimensionality are consistently impressive, and the lightly letterboxed 1.85:1 image is bolstered by deep, inky black levels. I couldn't spot any hiccups at all in the AVC encode, and the very faint trace of film grain thankfully shows no signs of being digitally smeared away. The one thing that caught me off-guard is the warm palette, which dulls the whites throughout much of the film, although the colors scream with vibrancy in the more lavish musical numbers. This is clearly a deliberate stylistic choice, though, seeing as how the color timing in the deleted scenes is entirely different. This is by far the most visually dazzling of the three High School Musicals, and it really sparkles in high definition.
High School Musical 3's soundtrack is also slicker than the other two Disney Channel flicks. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sports the most lavishly produced songs of the series, and the instrumentation and vocals spread out comfortably to the surround channels this time around too. It's a richer, more lush recording, and it's backed by a hefty low-end. The mix is still weighted towards the front overall, but there's a stronger sense of atmosphere here, from claps of thunder to raining basketballs. I don't have any gripes, and as if it needs to be said, High School Musical has never sounded better.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in Spanish has also been tacked on alongside subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.
It looks like a decked-out special edition at first glance, but two of the three discs in this set pile on standard definition copies of High School Musical 3. Offering both a DVD and a digital copy seems kind of like overkill to me, and these extra discs come at a $5 premium over Disney's usual asking price. On the upside, though, there's a $10 coupon pasted on the front of the package if you pick up one of the first two High School Musicals along with it, and that eases the sticker shock a bit.
High School Musical 3 doesn't tack on a lot of extras, but at least every last one of them is in high definition. Clocking in at thirteen minutes, the lengthiest of the bunch is "New Cast Profiles", which aims its HD cameras at the three new kids who may or may not spin off into a fourth Musical at some point down the line. This featurette pieces together auditions, video diaries, a smattering of behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot, and a peek at their lives before cameras rolled.
Why settle for one night at the prom? High School Musical 3 piles on two prom scenes, and the choreography, rehearsals, and sheer technical difficulty behind these sequences are tackled in "Night of Nights" (7 min.). Since so much of the cast really is graduating from High School Musical now, one five minute featurette follows them as they tearfully say goodbye and another brief clip shows them voting on superlatives for a cast-'n-crew yearbook. Director/choreographer Kenny Ortega serves up a brief introduction for the six minute reel of deleted scenes, and on the bill are the setup and payoff for a lucky socks gag, Ryan and Kelsi getting friendlier, and Zeke mustering up the nerve to ask Sharpay to the prom. Also included are a three minute blooper reel and a quick peek at the costume design of the gals' prom dresses. The switch hasn't been flipped on High School Musical 3's online bells-and-whistles as I write this, but it'll apparently include some kind of photo-sharing feature closer to launch.
High School Musical 3 tries to be clever with its yearbook-themed menus, but they're kind of a hassle to navigate even with a streamlined "table of contents" to help out. A few short snippets of footage are only available while thumbing through the yearbook, and I never did manage to figure out where the singalongs are. (It's for the review! Promise.)
The Final Word
The original cast of High School Musical made their final bows on the big screen, and although the tailend of their senior year isn't as unrelentingly adorable as the first two flicks on the Disney Channel, at least this one has a more ambitious script and some dazzling choreography to try to make up for it. The movie looks and sounds incredible on Blu-ray, and even if the extras are kind of forgettable, at least Disney went to the effort of hammering them out in high-def. Who am I kidding, though? You knew before you clicked on this review whether or not you were going to shell out $25 for a copy. Recommended.