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.