Tweenage Wasteland


This article was written on 24 Oct 2008, and is filled under high school musical, this is my angry face.

Countdown to HSM3: Top 10 Worst Things About High School Musical

10. The roller coaster/wave in Summertime
Becky: I’m pretty sure if you looked in some kind of film making encyclopedia for “awkward shot” you’d find this sequence. (Uh, an online, interactive encyclopedia, I guess.) It’s not good.
Jess: Kenny is great at getting kids to feel comfortable around him and dance their little hearts out. Experimental cinematography? Not so much.

9. Mr. Fulton
Becky: There are so many things wrong with Fulton — like how he spritzes after talking about Sharpay (whaa?), how everyone acts like he’s super mean and scary (um, he would like employees to clock in and out on time, HOW UNREASONABLE), how he’s not a very good actor… But what’s really wrong is his name.
Jess: Or, more specifically, how similar it is to “Bolton,” Troy’s last name. Kenny would have done well to make his poorly-enunciating little brood practice saying these names with mouths full of marbles a la My Fair Lady, but since he didn’t, we spent the movie hearing characters mumble “…lton” and going “Huh?”

8. The possibility of future HSMs
Jess: No. Just no. Especially without the main cast.
Becky: And the main cast really, really should not come back, Zefron. So: no more movies. Okay? Okay.

7. Zef’s dancing
Becky: An easy target, but… He’s just SO BAD.
Jess: Again, a superior film (like, oh, say, Hairspray) would have figured out a way to cunningly hide him during dance numbers so you didn’t realize that he barely danced at all. HSM features his move-screwing-up and Crazy Zef Dances. HSM, dare I say, is not a superior film.

6. Darbus
Jess: Darbus is a bad teacher and a bad director, but she’s supposed to be. However, she’s also played by a terrible actress who keeps saying “musicale,” so there’s absolutely nothing redeemable about her whatsoever.
Becky: The only thing that would have possibly redeemed her in any way was the conceptualized duet between her and Coach Dad, but a) it didn’t happen, an b) … well … scroll down the list.

5. Coach Dad
Becky: Coach Dad sucks. He’s possibly a WORSE actor, and he’s terrifyingly badly written.
Jess: Watch him scream angrily at his team, demanding to know where Troy and Chad are! Watch him have a tender, discomfort-inducing moment with his shirtless, hairless, Bonne-Bell-Lip-Smackered son! Watch him grope his son’s underage friends, inexplicably hang out with his team/students during summer vacation, and tell his son that it’s totally cool and not morally ooky to psuedo-date his boss’s daughter for money! And watch him do it all very, very poorly.

4. Troy
Jess: I hate Troy. This is not the first time I’ve said it and it will not be the last, but he’s the most wooden, self-involved, consistently douche-baggy protagonist I’ve ever seen in a kids’ franchise. From the moment he gets Gabi detention in her first period of her first day at East High without once thinking “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t call her in class,” to the crowning height of douche-baggery when he decides to fix all his mistakes by dropping out of Sharpay’s show and thus screwing her over but not reporting in to work or attempting to get the regular show back on, thereby making nobody but himself happy, he proves himself incapable of thinking about anyone else for even a second.
Becky: The franchise really lucked out in casting Zac Efron — Jess doesn’t like him, and he can certainly come across as a douche, but he also can be quite charming and adorable. He manages to bring some of that charm to Troy, especially in the first movie; and he and Vanessa actually are attracted to each other, so that comes across, too. Without those two lucky strokes, the movies would be unwatchable, because Troy? Well, Troy is a complete and total douchebag.

3. Camp Rock happened
Becky: Camp Rock was created in the hopes it would be the next HSM. So, if there was no HSM, there would be no Camp Rock, and I would have two hours of my life and god only knows how many brain cells back.
Jess: Not to mention we’d have to look at Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers a lot less. That would be a better, kinder world indeed.

2. The franchise’s relentless marketing to kids as young as 3
Jess: Look. I get that Disney wants to merchandise their stuff, and hey, we had some joyous giggles over Becky’s Ryan- and Chad-flavored (we can only assume) gum. But constantly shilling toothbrushes and toy microphones to preschoolers – that’s not okay. Give them a few years before stamping all over their foreheads with brand logos, okay, Disney?
Becky: Here’s a thought: how about we don’t train a new generation of toddlers to be consumers who’ll buy whatever has a designer label on it? How about we don’t manufacture so much useless junk they don’t need, which clogs up the world with pollution as it’s made and fills up dumps when it breaks? It’s not that we want to live in a world where you can’t buy bubble gum with Chad and Ryan holograms on the package, it’s that Disney has never heard of moderation, and ultimately that’s bad for everyone.

1. HSM’s status within and relationship with the musical genre
Becky: So I love HSM and all, but I’m not really a musical theater person. Uh, Jess is, though. And I have the sneaking suspicion that she’s been holding back a very strong opinion all week, waiting for this moment.
Jess: *breathes*

There are a lot of things that anger me about the way the High School Musical films approach, well, being a musical. The weak (Tizz, Monique, Corbin) or nasal (Tizz, Vanessa) singers who don’t know how to put across a song (Vanessa, Zef) in a way that conveys character and emotions. The third-rate pop songs that consistently fail to advance the plot or character development (show me one thing “Bet On It” adds to the movie, I dare you). The complete ignorance as to how actual musical theater is conducted.

Worse than that, though, is the mocking position HSM takes in relation to the genre. “God,” it seems to say, “musicals are so stupid. Like, they’re called things like ‘Twinkle Town Musicale’ and the people who love them are all mean, intermittently stupid, and shallow, or downright crazy, and why couldn’t our heroes just sweep in and take the leads? I mean, it can’t be that hard or require effort or dedication.” The people who love the genre – Darbus, Ryan, and Sharpay – are villains or morons or both in the first movie and not much better in the second. (I would argue that Kelsi doesn’t fit into this category because she doesn’t love musical theater so much as she loves music.) Troy and Gabi display no skills beyond those required for karaoke. The show they are apparently auditioning for is incoherent and stupid. The auditioners are mocked mercilessly for…knowing ballet and opera? How dare they! And both films treat tap dancing, the musical theateriest of all dance forms, with utter disdain and ridicule, despite the fact that the director’s mentor was Gene freaking Kelly.

If this were a highly forward-thinking or experimental series, I could see where they were coming from. I don’t think being dismissive and insulting towards those who have gone before you is indicative of maturity or quality, but I guess if you’re written the greatest musical ever made, you can afford to be a little haughty. Neither HSM is the greatest musical ever made. Neither would break the top 100. I am fond, obviously, but y’all, these movies are bad. The writing is bad, the acting is (for the most part) bad, the singing is uneven…all they’ve got going for them is costumes and dancing (minus Zef, of course). Even the staging sucks – the line of spasmodically jumping backs to the audience in “Everyday” makes me want to scream.

So where the hell does anyone involved in HSM, from the producers all the way down to Manley’s personal assistant, get off insulting classic musical theater tradition?

But the thing that makes me angriest and saddest and most scared of all, is that crap like this is what kids today are being taught is musical theater. Look, I was born in the 80s, which was a pretty dry spell for the genre too, but I was raised on Gene Kelly and Shirley Temple and Rodgers and Hammerstein and I know the heights the genre can attain. The ravenous way young people from preschool up through high school are devouring HSM (and Camp Rock and Hannah Montana and every teenybopper who both acts and sings and anything else that even hints of musical theater – plus superior fare like Hairspray and Enchanted) shows that they are desperately hungry for musical theater, stories told with glorious, soul-soaring moments of song-and-dance. I don’t want them thinking High School Musical is the best they can get. They deserve something more.

Becky: *applauds*

Here, universe: let Gene, Donald, and Debbie show you how it’s really done.

« « Very Important Things | Countdown to HSM: Top 10 Best Things About High School Musical » »


  1. Margot
    October 24, 2008

    Your rant at the end fills me with glee. Seriously. *adores* Because musicals are awesome. And deserve to be treated with respect.

  2. Cyndy Otty
    October 25, 2008

    I’ve never watched HSM (or Camp Suck) but that’s because of exactly what you ranted on, Jess. Clearly, I’ve saved myself much torture and such.

  3. mosephy
    December 9, 2008

    I agree with more or less everything you post on this blog, but it was Jess’ rant on numer one that made me jump up and clap. AMEN, SISTAH!

    What really frustrates me is that Disney has a really good track record with musicals, though granted mostly animated. They’ve never exactly had trouble getting kids on board with the more theatrical aspects of their movies, given the wild success of Beauty and the Beast, the Lion King and others, both on screen and on stage. They raised a whole generation unwittingly in love with musicals (I dare you to find any woman older than fifteen who doesn’t know all the words to “A Whole New World”) and it’s saddening that they had to turn around and resort to such tactics as shunning the more theatrical elements to the sidelines while letting pseu-pop ballads take over.
    My idea: either get Kenny Ortega out of there or get Alan Menken in. And since they’re not going to fire the director of their most succesful franchise, then they really should have called up Menken and his song-writing genius. (And anything that brings Newsies-level awesomeness like the combo of Menken and Ortego is bound to be spectacular.)

    Also, as much as the writers’ grasp of reality in this series bothers me — summer jobs, amateur theatre and actual teenage interaction all seem to be foreign to them — NOTHING made me stutter and gesture with more indignation than the Julliard debacle in HSM3. ON WHAT PLANET, HSM? ON. WHAT. PLANET.

  4. Rebecca
    December 9, 2008

    Oh, come on. Troy had been in one whole school production! That is TOTALLY enough for consideration by Juilliard, amiright?!

  5. Louisa
    December 22, 2008

    School theatre is just a place to meet cute boys, wear cute clothes, and sing pop songs into microphones. The real world, the world outside high school theatre, is guaranteed and safe. Everybody gets whatever they want and lives happily ever after.

    Everybody already knew athletes and beautiful people deserve all the attention anyway. Theatre people should step aside and make way for those more important.

  6. Becci
    February 23, 2009

    *just stands up and applauds your musical rant*


    I can see the appeal of HSM in a ‘so bad it’s good’ sort of way, but I actually got into large debates with people OF MY OWN AGE over how unlike a musical the franchise really is. Imagine my horror when half the people I was talking too didn’t know what I meant when I was talking about REAL musicals such as The King and I, or Singin’ in the Rain.

    And it’s not like modern musicals have to be bad! Disney has done good musicals in the past, and my mum (who I thank entirely for sitting me down with real musicals from the age of four and sparking my love of them) is head over heels for Wicked. It’s just…HSM is not a musical. It’s a cash cow, a vaguely amusing a light-hearted cash cow, but it IS NOT a musical.

    Besides, Gene Kelly is a far more attractive man than anyone in HSM could ever hope to be. (But Lucas gets massive hugs for, you know, actually having TALENT.)

  7. evildudesrule
    June 3, 2009

    Bravo. Thank you for that. I have tried and tried to explain my utter disdain for HSM as anything but cheesetastic suckiness, but have been unable to word exactly why.

    Oh, yeah, and
    I hate Troy. This is not the first time I've said it and it will not be the last, but he's the most wooden, self-involved, consistently douche-baggy protagonist I've ever seen in a kids' franchise.

    Dawson Leary is the only other one I can name, but different rant for a different day.