The Highlight Reel

“High School Musical” is mid

Nick Porisch

More stories from Nick Porisch

The Highlight Reel
May 10, 2023

Photo by Marisa Valdez

Image copyright Walt Disney Pictures

So, this is what it comes down to.

Everyone knows the story — a fateful New Year’s Eve party, a pair of star-crossed lovers from separate worlds and a high school divided into a strict caste system of cliques.

An epic story of love, friendship, music and basketball.

This week, I’m talking about the 2006 Disney Channel Original Movie “High School Musical.”

I’m going to be upfront — I’d never seen this before last night. I felt like I knew the trilogy backwards and forwards from seeing endless GIFs and memes, but I’d never witnessed this piece of cinema in its entirety.

My sisters were both just a little too young to get caught in the HSM mania, and I somehow missed it completely.

I’ll skip a beat-by-beat summary, because I assume most of the Spectator’s viewership is well aware of this story. Instead, I’ll just cut to the chase.

I didn’t like it.

And that’s not just me being a contrarian who hates anything that’s popular. I watched the first half of “High School Musical 2” after we finished the original, and it was way more fun. It had humor, charm and some sense of real characters.

The original “High School Musical,” though, is one of the most dry, empty movies I’ve ever seen. The characters have no arcs, or real conflicts, or anything interesting going on.

The story and characters would be fine if the movie let us get to know its characters more, or leaned into its campiness like it does in the next movie.

For me, the highlights of the movie were when we got to see the characters interact and live their lives. A lot of the cast was legitimately close to the age of their characters, and it felt like the most fun parts were when we got to see real (almost) teenagers act like teenagers.

The songs are the weakest in the trilogy, and the editing of the music numbers is super weird. They cut out all the diegetic sound, like basketballs bouncing or people stomping, which gives the music scenes an eerie quality.

In “High School Musical 2,” we get to see that Troy is an earnest, fun-loving himbo, and he turns into a really likable, fun character. In the original, though, we get next to no character traits from him.

He wants to play basketball and be in the musical, but that’s pretty much all we ever know about our male lead.

Gabriella gets a little bit of interesting characterization when she talks about not wanting to be ostracized for being too smart, but this is pretty much dropped after its first mention.

The movie is absolutely carried by its fun cast, charming central romance and escapist fantasy quality. I really think all of this is done way, way better in the sequel, though.

I’m sure a lot of readers, potentially including some of our editorial staff here at the Spectator, will be frustrated with this review, and I want to say that I do understand the movie’s appeal.

“High School Musical” has a lot of gaps in its quality, but they’re very much the kind of gaps that a young kid can fill in with whatever they want, making the movie that much more personal and impactful.

Unfortunately, I’m a cynical adult whose imagination has atrophied an unfortunate amount, and this one just didn’t click for me.

Porisch can be reached at [email protected].