By Aaron Wallace
Even if High School Musical hadn't broken every record in the book of TV movies, High School Musical 2 was inevitable. Of course, the smash success of the first movie helped boost the sequel to the top of cable television history. The August 2007 Disney Channel premiere raked in over 17 million viewers, more than any cable broadcast before it.That initial boom came as no surprise, following a yearlong fever pitch of fandom for the original. The continuing popularity of High School Musical 2 is a little puzzling, however, as the follow-up neglects two very important ingredients: "high school" and "musical".
As the movie opens, the school year depicted in the first installment is coming to an end ("What time is it? Summertime!"). As in most high schools, the entire student body of East High takes up summer employment at the same country club. What an understaffed winter that must have been! The lone exceptions are Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) and her brother, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), whose family owns said country club. Though unhappy about spending the summer with her lowly peers, Sharpay sees an opportunity to steal the affections of Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) from his girlfriend Gabriella (Vanessa Ann Hudgens). To achieve that end, she throws her family's wealth and opportunities at Troy, whose life ambitions leave him vulnerable to Sharpay's persuasion. Gabriella and Troy's other friends are none too pleased by that. Songs about love and anger ensue.
The most jarring of several problems inherent to High School Musical 2 is that we are no longer in high school. That unique perspective -- unique because of the genre and format, not the decidedly generic setting itself -- is largely responsible for the HSM concept's appeal. Take a bunch of bland teenage characters and put them in swimwear on vacation and you have at best a cheesy Elvis film and at worst an episode of "The Hills".
Left behind with the lockers and pep rallies is the light and ultra-catchy soundtrack that called to mind the ensemble singing of Broadway. Heavy studio production, sound effects, r&b beats, and digitized vocals take over in a frustrating attempt to fix what was never broken. As a result, HSM2's soundtrack sounds like any other Radio Disney compilation and in the movie,the actors' singing looks disconnected from the computerized noises. There are caveats, of course -- each number is enjoyable in its own right, "What Time Is It?" and "You are the Music in Me" in particular. But they don't work on the screen.
Making matters worse is that every song is a game of "point, counterpoint" with the first High School Musical. Ryan and Sharpay overperform their deliberately corny songs, Gabriella doubts her relationship with Troy in a solo ballad, and everyone celebrates their togetherness in a rousing group anthem. The story is no better. Character growth from the last movie regresses entirely; Sharpay has retreated from her personal revelations and is back as the requisite thorn in everyone's side. The characters who triumphed over stage fright are now shying away from song and dance. The same conflicts and Troy/Gabriella/Sharpay love triangle are rehashed all over again. Only Ryan moves forward from his one-dimensional persona in the original.
And then there is the ending. And the second one. And the third. I'm not sure which of the three closing sequences is best (or worst) but together, they are excessive. If I had been in the editing room, I would have dropped the "All for One" song but kept the scene, moving "Everyday" from its lame CGI-laden backdrop to something more visually tolerable.
Nowhere is the movie more ridiculous, though, than when Zac Efron drapes himself in black and spins around on grassy hills, Julie Andrews style. The simultaneous confusion of 17 million viewers will make "Bet On It" the most enduring memory of High School Musical 2 but it has done very little to squash rumors about Zac Efron's sexuality, the song title becoming good advice for those with a watchful eye on his closet.
Despite all this, High School Musical 2 is entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Many might dismiss the first with the very same description, mind you, but I've defended it on the merits. I can't do that for this unworthy sequel but the unadulterated (if overstated) camp, familiar (if inconsistent) characters, and fun (if inorganic) music are enough to lend some replay value to a movie that offers little more than a diversion in terms of narrative.
Originally released as a single-disc Extended Edition DVD, High School Musical 2 returns to the format in a new 2-Disc Deluxe Dance Edition. As with the last release, this new edition offers only the extended version of the film, which restores the "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" scene absent from the original broadcast. The scene is unremarkable but the song is fun and some related dialogue in the script now makes sense. There's no question that the movie is better off with the scene included and a cynical thinker might conclude that it was only cut in the first place to boost DVD sales later.
VIDEO and AUDIO
The movie is presented in 1.33:1 "fullscreen", matching its original television presentation. Like the first High School Musical and other recent Disney Channel Original Movies, it appears that director Kenny Ortega framed this for both fullscreen and widescreen, meaning that either presentation is arguably appropriate. The fact that this DVD preserves the original presentation gives it some merit, but the widescreen presentation -- which is available on the movie's Blu-ray release -- should definitely be offered here too. Musicals typically benefit from a wider lens because of the expansive dance sequences.
Video quality on the DVD is about what you would expect. This is a made-for-TV movie with a TV budget and it looks like anything else the Disney Channel airs. It's very bright and colorful with a soft sort of glossy look to it and the action looks less than smooth. None of that can be fairly attributed to the DVD. While the Blu-ray almost certainly would offer some enhancement (I haven't had the chance to appraise it myself), I don't think there's much else to be done with the source material. Here's hoping that High School Musical 3's theatrical destination affords it better production values.
Audio on this DVD is a very different story. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is quite good, with a good deal more channel separation than one usually finds on anything that originated on television. Crisp, clear, and full sound is in full supply and the bass is roaring, but not excessively so. This is the best audio track I've heard on a Disney Channel DVD.
There's no reason to believe that the video presentation here is anything different than the one seen on the previous Extended Edition DVD. Whether the audio track has undergone any tinkering is a question I don't have an answer to. Given their track record, I have a hard time believing Disney would go in a boost audio for a "DCOM" DVD re-release (and certainly not without advertising it), and yet reviews of the previous DVD -- including this site's own -- paint a different picture of the audio track than I have done here. Without the old Extended Edition in my possession, I unfortunately can't compare.
The 2-Disc Deluxe Edition offers a very robust selection of bonus features, especially considering that it's all for a TV movie. Disc One is identical to the previous Extended Edition, at least in terms of supplements, while everything on Disc Two is brand-new.
Disc One's extras begin with "Bloopers" (4:11), an entertaining outtakes reel.
The gaffs shown here belong mostly to Efron, presumably because he is either the most marketable or least professional.
Under Music and More, one first finds a link to the "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" scene (5:11), something that can be as easily achieved in the Scene Selection menu. After that, there is an array of music videos from around the world. From the United States is "You Are the Music in Me" (3:29), mixing footage from the first HSM with the appropriate scene in the second and the original soundtrack. From Mexico is the very same song (3:40), here performed in Spanish by Paulina Holguin & Roger. Canda introduces Nikki Yanofsky, singing both a French (3:44) and an English (3:44) rendition of "Gotta Go My Own Way" with essentially identical music videos.
"Sing Along with the Movie" offers each song selection with on-screen lyrics; they can be accessed individually or watched in instant succession. The lyrics light up in traditional fashion.
"High School Karaoke" offers the same menu, only this time, when the songs are selected, only the sound effects and instrumentals play. Lead and background vocals are entirely silent, while the on-screen lyrics are back (though you can turn them off altogether). It's worth noting that the instrumentals are fairly lackluster, so I'm not sure how much fun a karaoke party this would make.
Under Backstage Disney is "Rehearsal Cam", which documents the choreography and dance rehearsals of every High School Musical 2 song sequence except "You Are the Music in Me" and "Gotta Go My Own Way". Using the "Bounce to the Movie" feature, each song's rehearsal footage then cuts to the final scene in the movie before returning to more behind-the-scenes video. Alternatively, the final product can be omitted and each number's rehearsal can be watched individually. This is a really great supplement, not only because it shows the cast sans makeup and singing live with no supporting tracks but also because it puts the creative process front and center. Director Kenny Ortega and his eager cast improvise and creative impressive moves as they go and it's all here for the viewer to see. Together, the rehearsal footage runs 35:49 (excluding the final movie clips), amounting to a considerable production diary of sorts.
Also awkwardly stuck in this section is a sneak peek (2:01) for "Phineas and Ferb", a relatively new Disney Channel animated series starring the voice of Ashley Tisdale. Tisdale herself hosts the preview.
Disc Two begins with a Deleted Scenes section. There are four in total, together running 4:19. These are neat because Ortega's direction is still audibleeven while the scenes are otherwise fully polished. Only one of them would have added much to the story -- "No Diving" finds Ryan making an effort at friendship with Gabriella.
The second disc also has its own Music and More section. Kicking it off is "Dance Along", an interactive feature hosted by the central and supporting cast. The dances to two songs -- "What Time Is It?" and "All for One" -- are taught step by step and along the way, the viewer can choose to view the action from the front, from the back, in half-speed, in full speed, or with blow-by-blow instruction. Functionality could stand improvement, as this isn't the easiest thing to navigate. With patience, though, it is a fun feature that kids should especially enjoy.
Next up is a music video for "All for One" (4:21), featuring the original soundtrack and video of the central cast on the dance floor and inside the recording studio. That's followed by a gallery comprised of a whopping twenty music videos from around the world. The videos are: "Gotta Go My Own Way" (once by an unidentified artist in Mexico, another by an unidentified singer in Brazil, a third by Nikki Oil in the Philippines, and a fourth by still another unidentified singer in France); "Everyday" by Justin Lo and Kary No in Hong Kong; "You Are the Music in Me" (first by Vince Chono & Jaclyn Victor in Malaysia, then by Ben & Kate Hall in Germany, then by Pquadro in Italy, then by Keremcen in Turkey, then by Hania Stach & Andrzej Lampert in Poland, and finally by Molly Zanden och Ola in Sweden); "Bet On It" (one by Show Lo in Taiwan, another by Willy Denzey in France); "All For One" (one by Mota in Spain, another by an unidentified performer in India); the Sharpay reprise of "You Are the Music in Me" by Tess Gaerthe & Thomas Berge in Holland; "I Don't Dance" by Expensive Soul & Bianca Rodriguez in Portugal; and "What Time Is It?" by an unidentified singer in Hungary.
A few of these renditions are inspired but most are bland and hardly different from those before it. If nothing else, watching these back to back certainly illustrates the global magnitude of HSM hysteria. However, the final video, entitled "Stitch Meets High School Musical", is quite a treat. This animated music video finds Disney's lovable Stitch character (of Lilo & Stitch fame) in East High gear, dancing to "We're All in This Together". Fan of the series or not, you've gotta love this. All together, the twenty videos run 1:03:31. If you use the Play All feature, you'll see a short introduction to the gallery by Kenny Ortega (0:42). Of course, I can't imagine anyone wanting to endure all of these at once.
Disc Two also gets its own Backstage Disney section. Kicking that off is "High School Confidential", a series of behind-the-scenes vignettes, a game, and a gallery. These are worth watching, though the lack of a Play All option is frustrating, as is the multi-menu design (fortunately, there is an index at the end). In order, they are: "The Zac Factor" (3:14), "Very Vanessa" (3:13), "On Set with Miley" (2:37) -- and yes, that means Miley Cyrus, "More Than a Movie" (3:13), "The Sharpettes" (2:54), "Being Sharpay" (2:59), "One Fabulous Scene" (2:57), "Manly the Dog" (1:56), "Cues from Kenny" (3:22), and "From Center Stage to Center Field" (2:45). The game is called "Who's That Baby?", in which you're asked to correctly identify the baby picture of each of the main stars. A correct guess triggers a menu of four corresponding publicity stills. These are the very same images that appear in the subsequent "Photo Gallery", making the latter unnecessary.
Next is "The Making of 'Humuhumunukunukuapua'a'" (5:30). From the recording studio to the choreography sessions to the final production, the scope of this unusual song's birth is covered in only a short period of time. There's some great backstage video here and some interesting trivia, making it worth watching despite the brevity.
"Cast Favorites" (4:32) interviews Hudgens, Tisdale, Grabeel, Bleu, and Coleman on their favorite singers, songs, movies, actors, pizza types, etc. You'll notice that Efron isn't in the line-up.
"On Location" (4:17) goes to the HSM2 set in St. George, Utah. Hosting is Kaycee Stroh, who plays Martha Cox. The beautiful Utah landscape is profiled and supporting cast members finally get their turn at a few interviews (though we only see a few seconds of them).
"In the Kitchen" (4:14) has Lucas Grabeel hosting a look at the very first day of shooting, which happens to be a scene he isn't in: the "Work This Out" number. Grabeel has always been an entertaining host on these DVDs and the quick comments from cast and crew during shooting breaks are fun to see.
Disc Two's main menu concludes with a "Sneak Peek at High School Musical 3" (3:04). More than just a trailer, this a short behind-the-scenes look, with glimpses at rehearsals,
MENUS, PACKAGING, and DESIGN
The most important thing about the Deluxe Dance Edition's packaging is that it includes a free movie ticket to High School Musical 3 (worth up to $7.50 at participating theaters and expiring 11/21/08). Actually, it's really just an online code that will allow you to print your ticket -- that nuance should be clearly marked for the sake of those who stop at a shop on their way to the movie theater, but it isn't. There's also a Magic Code for the Disney Movie Rewards program (currently worth 125 points), a booklet of advertisements, and a Blu-ray promo pamphlet.
The discs are housed inside a standard black keepcase with protective side snaps. Covering that is a snazzy cardboard slipcover that is embossed on the front and holographic on both sides.
Disc One's 16x9 main menu is an animated depiction of the "All for One" scene, with beach balls and floats bouncing around in a moving pool. The sub-menu screens are more impressive, as they each piece together a multi-angle view of a song in different frames. Even sub-sub-menus (and sometimes even three "subs" down) contain instrumental music -- something of a rarity. Disc Two's main menu is similar to Disc One's sub-menus.
The packaging claims that the DVD is enabled with Disney's FastPlay, meaning that when you put the disc in the player, you would have to either press the "Menu" button or be subjected an automated sampling of previews, the movie itself, and Disc One bonus features. However, there is no FastPlay to be found. That's a good thing, though, as FastPlay is the most unnecessary thing in the DVD world since generic cardboard slipcovers.
Instead, Disc 1 loads with the ubiquitous Disney promo. That's followed by previews for Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, "Hannah Montana": The Complete First Season, Disney DVD Games (based on "Hannah Montana" and High School Musical), The Cheetah Girls: One World, and the Disney Movie Rewards program. The main menu's sneak peeks collection also includes previews for Camp Rock, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea - Special Edition, Tinker Bell, The Secret of the Magic Gourd, "Phineas and Ferb" on The Disney Channel (different from the Tisdale preview above), Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert, and Disney Parks.
High School Musical 2 is a letdown. By stripping away the elements that made the original so appealing, the sequel leaves itself only a flimsy story that forgets everything that happened in the previous movie. With a generic summer vacation setting and songs that though enjoyable on their own sound like they're ripped from radio and entirely foreign to a movie, Country Club Music Video would be more apt a title. Despite the laundry list of problems, however, I've gotten some sort of kick out of this each time that I've seen it.Somehow the prevailing spirit of fun casts a shadow over everything else that might normally send me reaching for my remote. And that counts for something, if not a lot.
The 2-Disc Deluxe Edition takes a DVD treatment of telefilms to a new level. This is the Platinum Edition of Disney Channel Original Movies. There's no audio commentary, no feature-length documentary, and no publicity gallery (not even a single TV spot). The supplements are still numerous, though, and for the most part, they're pretty good. Video presentation is as good as a DVD is going to get (except for the lack of an alternate widescreen viewing option) and the audio presentation is quite pleasing.
All of this leads me to recommend the new release. That might even go for those who already own the Extended Edition DVD if the extra bonuses are at all on your radar. I personally enjoyed Disc One's material more but it wouldn't be fair to dismiss everything that's been added to this release. Of course, those who haven't even seen the first High School Musical yet should certainly do that first -- not because it's necessary for continuity's sake, but because it's a better movie.