Although this Disney telepic won incredibly high ratings among its target audience and spawned a chart-topping soundtrack CD, High School Musical is at best a middling attempt at reviving the old-time "tuner." To start with the good news, the young cast is extremely appealing, and their energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to the material (as well as their teen-magazine cuteness) go a long way toward making Musical work -- and help to explain why so many teens and 'tweens found it so engaging. Kenny Ortega has staged the musical numbers sharply; the choreography itself is of varying quality, but Ortega captures them well on film. And certainly the basic theme -- whether it's better to be yourself or to be what is expected of you -- is one that resonates with the viewers Musical is reaching out to. Unfortunately, that theme is carried out via a screenplay that is trite, superficial, unbelievable, and actively annoying -- at least to most viewers over 18. There are also large credibility issues, including whether the drama clique at any high school could be as popular as presented here; the cartoonish manner in which the drama teacher is written and acted; and the fact that the leading male is supposed to be a major contender for a basketball career, despite the fact that a generous guess at his height would put him at no more than 5' 10". To make matters worse, the adult characters are one-dimensional stereotypes, Ortega's direction is overly obvious, and the score, with one or two exceptions, is bland pop pap. Still, many people will be very willing to overlook these flaws, finding the youthful cast and the basic idea more than enough to keep them entertained.
by Craig Butler review