Brooklyn Arden Review: "High School Musical"

I was recently introduced to the Disney Channel movie "High School Musical," which is, indeed, a musical set in a high school. It's about a basketball player named Troy Bolton who meets a pretty brainiac named Gabriella Montez at a karaoke contest over Christmas vacation. Back at school, they decide to try out for the school musical together, much to the consternation of his teammates and basketball-coach father, her academic-decathalon buddies, and the Margo Channing of the Drama Club (a girl amusingly named Sharpay). In fact, the kids' breaking free of their usual labels causes schoolwide drama, as another nerd announces she loves to dance, a skateboarder says he enjoys the cello, and -- my favorite detail -- one of the tough basketball guys declares his passion for baking.

Now, you don't get any points for guessing where this is going; the soundtrack list alone shows the school's progress from "Stick to the Status Quo" to "We're All in This Together." The characters are stock, the dialogue and acting cheesy, the music and performances straight out of "American Idol," with lots of oh-ohhhing (and be warned, the songs stick in your head). The direction is by Kenny Ortega, who choreographed "Dirty Dancing" among other beloved movies of my youth. But perhaps because of that, oh(-ohhh), this worked on me -- the heightened emotions of a musical (which I'm a sucker for anyway), the sweet little romance, the fantasy of a whole school coming together and supporting all its kids in whoever they choose to be. I was looking at the 364 reviews of the soundtrack on, and these two stood out to me:

the movie High School Musical is the extremely the best movie EVER! zac efron is such a good singer! vannessa is a great singer 2! (i could go on ALL day!) I watched this movie 7 times and if i LOVE the movie, then i know ill LOVE the soundtrack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Terrible. Evil. Makes you want to upchuck. How can people my age actully listen to this junk without being rushed to the hospital? This should burn in the fires from wence it came! Under no circumstance should anyone listen to this junk! EVIL!!!! IT BURNS!

"High School Musical" is not, by any real aesthetic standards, a good movie. But its heart extends to include both of these kids -- the teenybopper and the angsty snob, if I were going to apply labels -- and to imagine a world where labels don't matter, the Rudolphs and Ugly Ducklings aren't tortured, and we all just get to sing or bake or play ball or do chemistry to our souls' content. Or to be more accurate, to sing AND bake AND play ball AND do chemistry to our souls' content -- we get to be more than one label. That was the impressive idea in it for me, and if you come across this on the Disney Channel and don't mind resting your brain for a bit, it's charming, enjoyable, and worth checking out.