Cynthia alerted me that the Disney Channel's original movie High School Musical is now airing in full force. Since I am working on a script in a similar milieu, I've been curious about this, so I TiVoed it last night.
Cleverly, High School Musical is not only about a musical, it is itself a musical, and I was lucky enough to catch the airing of a "sing-along" version, in which song lyrics are displayed on screen for every musical number.
Going in, I was uncomfortable and anxious because I feared the movie would bear similarities to my own script. Right now I am thirty-four minutes into it. Now I am uncomfortable and anxious simply because the movie is so grating that it sets me on edge just watching it.
Like the brief snippets I've seen of other Disney Channel shows, High School Musical features well-scrubbed kids in brightly colored wardrobes, with dubious acting ability and a hyperactive energy level. Everything feels too fast and big and loud and over-the-top and frantic, even as nothing is actually happening. It's kind of like when your heart is racing and you have a high fever and you start to panic for no reason. Yes, watching the Disney Channel is like having a fever so high you risk permanent brain damage. I feel like I should be watching in a bathtub full of ice. It literally makes me feel ill.
Why is the drama teacher so insane? Why does she say "musi-caal" instead of musical? It's not just a psuedo-sophisticated affectation, it's a made-up psuedo-sophisticated affectation. Has anyone ever met a teacher who acted like that? She's ridiculous in a way that's totally unreal. Okay, so this is pandering to kids who see adults as buffoons, but it might be slightly more tolerable if she wasn't in every scene.
And is there a quicker way to make us hate your main character than to reveal him as an amazing singer who never had to work at it? In the first song, our stage-shy leads are forced to sing karaoke and end up dueting in perfect harmony that never quite matches their lip movements. The next number, in which the basketball team sings and dances during practice, takes place in that surreal zone that, according to the rules of musicals, is not to be taken literally. That is, the basketball team did not really sing and dance, but their song-and-dance is expressing our lead character's mindset. But the first song is literal--they're onstage with karaoke microphones and their singing talent is a plot point--so revealing that a basketball player whose only singing experience is in the shower can sing sweet harmonies instantly is just obnoxious.
And I still have three-fourths of the movie to go.
UPDATE: The "Stick to the Status Quo" number is pretty decent, and actually feels like a real musical.
Yesterday Cynthia mentioned the weird villain--Sharpay (Sharpay?!), a popular-girl-slash-ice-queen who dominates the drama department along with her brother, who is clearly gay although no one ever says so. The weirdness of a girl playing lead--presumably romantic--roles opposite her gay brother is never acknowledged. But the funny thing is that the gay brother offers what seems to be the most understated, least flamboyant performance in the movie. Maybe it's just because you fear the gay kid will be even worse, so matching everyone else's level of hamminess makes him seem normal. But I don't think that's it. He really is the most bearable character to watch.
UPDATE: This premise--a meta-musical set in high school--is actually pretty good. There are little moments where you see what it could have been if it weren't a product of the Disney Channel. Thing is, no one else would have made it.
Remember, kids: Don't let your friends tell you that you're only good at one thing, when you're really awesome at everything.
UPDATE: Okay, this final number is way too long, especially for such a terrible song. Has a movie ever had this much of the color red? Yikes.
I really didn't expect the musical itself to never actually happen in the movie. Maybe this movie should be called High School Musical Auditions. I expected to cut from the successful audition to the end of the real show, or something. Why show the end of the basketball game? No one cares about the outcome--we're pretty sure they'll win anyway. I guess putting everyone in the gym makes a better ensemble dance number, but story-wise it's a bit of a letdown.