Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing Kenny Ortega’s High School Musical back from the dead.
High School Musical (2006)
Dir: Kenny Ortega
Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale
Of the 50 musicals listed in Film4’s top motion picture sing-alongs, only nine were made in or after the year 2000. That says quite a lot for the struggle musicals face in the modern film world. But back when musicals were first produced, audiences couldn’t get enough, and almost as soon as sound film technology emerged in the 1920s, so too did the world’s first on-screen musical. In 1927, The Jazz Singer became the first feature length film to mix both diegetic and non-diegetic sound, and to this day remains one of the greatest technical achievements in cinema. From then on a revolution began, and right up until the 1960s, the ‘music movie’ became one of the most popular genres in film.
As far as musicals go, High School Musical is up there with the likes of Grease, Singin’ in the Rain and The Sound of Music. Despite this, the film has suffered largely at the hands of film critics who have long forgotten what the film industry is truly about. Not only is the film hugely overlooked, so too is its influence on contemporary music entertainment.
As far as musicals go, High School Musical is up there with the likes of Grease, Singin’ in the Rain and The Sound of Music
The Golden Globe-winning show Glee, for one, is a direct result of the High School Musical effect – so much has been replicated in the show that the only real difference between the two is the ages of the characters. Fickle audiences won’t stand for children dancing around and pronouncing their love for stage musicals, but when angst-ridden teenagers do it, there’s critical acclaim. But High School Musical was never made with awards and acclaim in mind. It was made with the sole aim of making sure you tapped your toes every time the cast broke out into song. I challenge anyone not to get sucked into the vacuum-like wonder of a High School Musical sing-along number.
The problem with musicals is that audiences tend to view them in one of two distinct ways; as a film or as a musical. As a film, Grease was pretty shoddy. As a musical, it was genre-defining. High School Musical emerged during a time when the idea of mainstream musicals had been dead for a number of years, so any attempt to break new ground was always going to be a significantly demanding prospect. Another film that recently attempted to rejuvenate a tired genre was teen vampire flick Twilight. Twilight, according to IMDb, sits just above High School Musical with a score of 5.2/10.
Now think about that. Two films simultaneously attempting to reboot their respective genres and introduce different kinds of films to new audiences. However, where one builds on a rich tapestry of light-hearted musical tradition, the other does little more than drive a stake through the proverbial heart of a once proud genre. Suddenly you find yourself asking whether High School Musical is really that bad.
The majority of people who dislike High School Musical have never seen the film in its entirety
The majority of people who dislike High School Musical, including I suspect a number of high profile critics, have never seen the film in its entirety. It brings me back to my original point. Most people in the film world have forgotten what the industry is predominately about, and that is enjoyment. What form enjoyment takes is a cumbersome issue that is of no interest to the mainstream viewer. All they’ve ever cared about is whether what they’re watching makes them laugh, cry or sing along. High School Musical is all about evoking a response from the audience, and in this sense, it is one of the purest examples of traditional cinema ever produced.
All images: Disney