As my wife and I pulled into the theater parking lot on the opening weekend of High School Musical 3, we were struck by just how empty the parking lot was. At first, we thought that perhaps the movie had bombed. Then we realized that there were most likely quite a few middle-school aged kids here to see the movie. Their parents had simply dropped them off.

It takes a lot of confidence in your sexuality (seriously, I’m straight. And relatively mature for my age) to admit to a desire to see this film, as I did previously, and as I entered a theater full of teenage girls, I started to wonder if everyone else was right. Maybe I do have to be gay or 8 years old to enjoy this movie. We found two parents in the entire theater, and as the movie started, I began to realize that a lack of parents suited these kids just fine. After all, swooning and squealing loudly in response to the opening shot of an intense, sweaty Zack Efron can be a little awkward if your parents are squirming uncomfortably next to you.

Let’s suffice it to say that HSM 3 is everything its prequals were, amplified to the big screen. If you want to become accutely aware of the inherent differences in the two mediums of television and cinema, watch High School Musical on television, and then go see this film. While High School Musical 1 and 2 were fascinating, entertaining, and amusing, HSM3 on a giant screen with squeeling girls is downright awkward.

The most startling realization during this experience was that this film — while it was a lot of fun and full of intentional humor that actually works pretty well — isn’t a joke for these girls. Not only did they truly want Zack Efron (do they know it’s called lust?), but they got a crash course on life from this silly dancing film. 

High School Musical 3 is all about identity, an issue that kids begin dealing with in middle school and which climaxes right around the time of graduation. Who am I, really? What am I supposed to do with my life? Who can help me figure this stuff out?

It’s the latter question that HSM3 seems to focus on, and ultimately where it drops the ball in a spectacular — not to mention sinister — way. Zack’s dad, Gabriel’s Mom, and the rest of the kid’s parents are either absent or clueless. They don’t provide answers, they provide conflict and a patronizing cluelessness. Instead, these kids find answers from their peers, from their teachers, and from within themselves. Looking for real answers? Look anywhere — just stay away from home.

Of course, there’s plenty to love about this film, particularly if you can leave your cynicism at the door. Provided the viewer can think critically through the film (which, of course, young kids with no parental guidance rarely can), it is a delightful experience with only a few minor setbacks. The songs, choreography, and the general spectacle of it all is fantastically engaging. Fans of music, theater, or fun might want to leave their pride at the door and check this one out.

But at the end of the film, we are all led to rejoice that these characters we loved so much will move far, far away, and will be with the ones they love or appreciate, free from any troubles or pressures. Free from home. Meanwhile, the audience — directly referenced by the blatant, overly-dramatic leering of the five main principle characters — is sent away with an implicit challenge: Stay at home only as long as you have to, and in the meantime, make sure your parents keep dropping you off.


  1. Rich, you and my husband can form a support club for straight, 20- and 30-something straight males who enjoy High School Musical. Actually, I think one of the biggest values of the High School Musical films is that they show that it’s okay for straight males–even “jock” boys–to be involved in theater. A couple of weeks ago, my university put on a production of Romeo & Juliet. Many of the male roles ended up being played by women, because only four men tried out.

    People, we HAVE to validate men in the arts. And maybe we can start by not questioning the sexual orientation of men who enjoy High School Musical.

    The showing we attended this weekend was actually pretty non-squealy. I actually might have been the only person in the theater who squealed, and that was when Sharpay accused Ryan (the budding choreographer) of doing “some sort of Fosse yoga.” Yep, dance-nerd joke.

    Our showing had a fair number of parents, too. We were amused by the sight of a father who entered the theater with his wife and at least four little girls. “Only man in my house,” we heard him complain. I think it speaks really well for him that he went along, though, because he clearly didn’t have to. Maybe he genuinely wanted to know what sorts of lessons his daughters were learning from the movie. Or maybe he even enjoyed it himself.

    I think you’re right about the HSM kids’ lack of adult input. You know, the absence of parental (or even adult) guidance is always a problem I’ve had with the Harry Potter books, much as I enjoy them. It strikes me as odd that parental absence or non-involvement is the theme of our big cultural stories, while at the same time, in reality, we’ve got a rise in “helicopter parenting.” I don’t know what to make of that.

    At least HSM 3 did present Miss Darbus as an adult with some influence over Troy’s decision.

  2. A group of friends from my bible college are going to see the movie tonight. All of them straight. All of us have found the movies strictly entertaining. It will be interesting to see it on the big screen.

  3. Haven’t seen the film yet… probably will though. I’ve got a pre-teen who loves the stuff.

    Seems like your review was a pretty good reflection of what it’s like to be a teenager these days – “these kids find answers from their peers, from their teachers, and from within themselves.”

    As far as the group of bible college students going to see the movie (all being straight) – check with them again in 20 years and see if you were right!

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  4. @Carissa:
    As far as questioning or not questioning the sexual orientation of men who enjoy High School Musical, I doubt that’s going to have any effect on getting males interested in the theatrical arts.

    Saying that theatre is for gay men is a far cry from saying HSM is for gay men. While neither is probably the most accurate or appropriate. HSM has about as much to do with theatre as boxing or architecture. Dogs and cats. Apples and oranges.

    A good chunk of the male world (who either isn’t in high school or doesn’t have a pre-teen daughter) doesn’t even know what HSM is. In fact, if it weren’t for Rich’s giddy posting about the series, I wouldn’t have heard of the film until three weeks ago when a poster for #3 went up at a local bus-stop I drive by daily. And even then, the poster makes it look like just another forgettable kids’ movie from Disney.

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  5. “HSM has about as much to do with theatre as boxing or architecture. Dogs and cats. Apples and oranges.”

    Yeah, yeah, and Taco Bell has nothing to do with Mexican food. But I don’t think that’s true with HSM and theater. We can debate about the quality of HSM versus “theatre” all we want, but that’s not my point; plain and simple, the plot portrays straight guys (and, okay, one who may not be so straight) getting involved in and enjoying theater. I’m all for anything that challenges stereotypes of who is and isn’t involved in the arts.

  6. My point wasn’t that HSM doesn’t present straight males in musically-inclined thespian roles, but that it won’t matter because young straight males aren’t going to see those positive portrayals. HSM does not fly at radar-level for the audience who could benefit from the portrayal.

    Hm. Even though that was my point, looking back, that point barely surfaces in my previous comment…

    The Danes last blog post..20081023.SnuffReview

  7. Okay. So my friends and I (about 10 of us) get to the movie theater, buy our tickets, stand in line, and get to our show and… THERE IS NO ONE THERE. We were the only one’s in the theater to see High School Musical 3: Senior Year! So I thought “oh, no… The movie must have been a total bomb!” Terrible.

    Well, I thought the movie was pretty good actually. Better then I expected. I thought the second one was not very good so I didn’t have great expectations for this film. I was pleasantly surprised. The choreography was… interesting. Disney obviously thought that children would be seeing this movie with their parents.

    I also noticed that all the senior characters were “college-bound.” You didn’t hear anyone say, “I’ve enlisted.” or “I’m taking a year off.” Are they trying to promote something? Or maybe they are trying NOT to promote something?

    All-in-all, we had fun. We picked up one high school senior on the way to the theater. When we buying getting our tickets he asked, “what are we seeing?” and followed our response with “High School Musical!? I thought you guys were joking!” I think he felt better that there were no (jr) high school girls in there. haha

  8. Ack! That poster! I’m painfully reliving my high school graduation when my tricycle red gown and cap clashed with my hot pink tulle-icious Barbie gown! What a fug!

  9. As someone who just moved away from home, I’d like to say that my senior year of high school was not spent asking my parents for advice on everything. I can’t really understand why you would expect a movie about that age group, no matter what it’s demographic is, to falsify an action such as an 18 boy or girl asking their mom or dad advice on their identity. I don’t believe that shouldn’t happen, just that it doesn’t. Since the individuals in the movie are about to be living on their own, away from home, why would they be all over their mom and dad realistically? It doesn’t make sense for you to expect that. The actors are all 18+ anyway, Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay) is 23.

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