High School Musical 3

Joe Nawaz endures Disney's movie-theatre karaoke and lives to tell the tale

My initial reaction when asked to review High School Musical 3, a sing-a-long extravaganza at the Grand Opera House, wasn't to leap for my varsity basketball costume. But only a churl would try to suggest that the shrill, emoti-conning of this popular kiddie’s franchise is any less valid a barometer of current youth culture than, say, watching an episode of Skins.

Joe dons his basketball costumeTurning up not with a child - it was too last minute to purloin a credibility-enhancing five-year-old - but with a female companion wearing heels, only makes me feel slightly more wrong about being here.

A stiff brandy later, and with each of us clutching a High School Musicial ‘goodie bag’, complete with cheerleader’s pom-pom and other franchise tat, we make for our seats, ensuring they are as far away from the crucible of kids (many of whom are dressed up as characters from the movie) as is humanly possible.

Any unease about looking out of place is assuaged by a nearby middle-aged couple - we’ll call them Waldorf and Statler, and fervently hope that those aren’t their real names - who far from being the proud grandparents of some of the little dressed-up darlings, reveal themselves to be unashamed High School Musical groupies.

They even brought their own two-litre bottle of coke and multipack crisps to fortify them for the gruelling hair ‘n’ teeth fest that is to follow. I’m not saying I was expecting Doctor Zhivago, but every time they collapse in hilarity at unfunny antics on screen, it makes me feel slightly better about my own place in the High School pecking order. Not a jock perhaps, but at least not a member of the chess club.

My elevated status doesn’t last though. As we are seated, a perky Zoe Ball look-a-like takes to the stage to lightly broil the already heated audience into a pre-teen lather with a series of calls and responses.

When we se the High School basketball team on the screen, we are instructed to bellow ‘Wildcats go!’. When it gets to the scene where the leading man’s black friend Chad is too shy to ask the seemingly only suitable girl for him (ie. the other black one) out on a date, we are ordered to howl: ‘Do it! Do it Now!

At this stage, in the midst of these arms-aloft, pom-pom wielding baying bairns, I feel like a Jewish pensioner at a pre-pubescent Nuremberg rally. Not a very edifying experience for me or my companion - but a veritable juice-swilling thrill for children, parents and Waldorf and Statler alike.

It gives you some idea of the stranglehold that such product has over the popular and impressionable consciousness of our youth that these events elicit the kind of voluntary audience participation normally reserved for the last orders stripper at a hen night.

Male lead Zac Efron plays Troy, the latest pretty boy that teenage girls ‘feel funny’ about. I hadn't an inkling about the plots, characters or basic synopsis of the series of movies beforehand. Imagine my surprise then, when, in a matter of minutes of the movie starting, I know everything there is to know about High School Musical. In fact, I’m now an aficionado.

For the unenlightened: There’s a bunch of upper-class white teens plus the occasional 'non-threatening' black and Latino thrown in to show, like, we’re all the same. They go to a high school where the only two courses on the syllabus appear to be drama and basketball – on heavy rotation. What kind of educational grounding is that? I tell a lie – there’s also a science class where the kids learn that the world is a whopping 4,500 years old. It’s just off screen, but you know it’s there.

The main teacher/life mentor at the school resembles a lobotomised Germaine Greer who’s taken the Female Eunuch title literally and decided to extend the offer to the boys as well. In short, it’s a protracted product-placement commercial wrapped in a creepily pseudo-Christian morality parable.

It’s pointless and too easy at this stage to count the ways that this film is both awful, exploitative and yet unintentionally hilarious, there are so many moments that are the creepy progeny of an unholy union between a Cosby Show homily and a Coca-cola commercial.

My favourite moments include when Troy complains that Gabrielle will be ‘knee-deep in geniuses’ when she goes to Stanford University – the image conjured causes Fanta to spray out my nostrils. Another appalling gem is the angry punch-the-air dance that Efron does to denote his angst at having to make another difficult teen decision.

Alright – this ain’t rock ‘n’ roll; this is High School Musical 3. It’s not about ‘us’, it’s about the kids, right? All my sneering won’t stop parents from being grateful for a couple of hours respite from full-on childcare. And it could be said that the sense of communalism is touchingly inclusive.

Unfortunately, I fear it’s something of a false hope. To my yellowing eye, the HSM experience is rather like a grooming parlour for little consumerists, taking their first tentative and unwitting steps to being as homogenised as cow’s milk.

As I leave the auditorium for an overdue stiff drink, the kids have clearly had their own kind of fix. Glassy-eyed and trilling asinine songs about sexless love and the imperative of being true to one’s dreams, I imagine their folks might think twice about taking them to see High School Musical 4 next year.

Heed warning though, I could be wrong - as Troy movingly emits in a key love scene with Gabrielle, 'You might be ready to say goodbye to this guy, but this guy isn’t ready to say goodbye to you.'

Joe Nawaz