For those of you without young children, I'm here to report on the phenomenal smash hit among the pre-teen set: High School Musical. Three movies in and one on the way, the franchise centers around an Albuquerque high school's theatrical production. The students are not only writing the score, lyrics, and choreography of their school's yearly musical, but the movie is itself a musical, giving the characters ample opportunity to express the story through singing and dance numbers.
With two daughters, our family own the first two movies in the series on DVD. Although I've never watched the movies myself, I am aware that the girls' favorite passtime is not only to watch the movies and listen to the soundtracks, but get together their friends and reenact the story, such is its popularity. But last Sunday, kind of on a lark, I took them to the theater to see the third movie in the series, and thereby watched it with them.
- I was impressed by its creativity and energy that Disney managed to maintain three movies in. The opening number, a song and dance integrated into a basketball game, could have been painfully ridiculous, but instead worked wonderfully. The movie reminded me of the great dance movies of the '80s, particularly Footloose, with shades of Flashdance, except with the sexuality safely domesticated.
- The vision of high school put forth in this movie is plausible only to children who haven't been yet. (What did you expect? It's Disney.) Never mind that the real Albuquerque public schools aren't nearly as rich, white, or talented as this movie pretends. It's vision of high school social dynamics is one in which nobody ever looses. Everybody is friends with everybody else. The only status striver is already at or near the pinnacle of the pyramid, and even she does no lasting damage to anybody else. Otherwise, everyone has a niche.
- I know this is a children's movie, but I was still struck by its handling of sex. It's not just that the romantic relationships are relaxed and chaste -- more chaste, in fact, than at my own real life Christian high school. (Indeed, had the movie been religiously themed, or produced by a conservative Christian outfit, this particular aspect would have been laughed to scorn by the critics.) It's not just that these relationships do not require, and do not receive, the parental policing so necessary in real life. It's that there is never any competition, rejection, or hurt feelings. The two (and a half) romantic relationships are acknowledged and unchallenged, and pass with only enough friction to make them interesting. Additionally, as I reflect on this, I realized that these relationships were the gateway through which each party socialized at all with members of the opposite sex.
Bottom line: if you have children in the 6 - 12 set, take them to see this movie. But tell them what I told my girls as we drove home:
"Sweetheart, I hope you realize that in real life, high school . . . isn't really that cool."
"I know, Daddy. It's only a movie."