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High School Musical: Encore Edition DVD Review

Buy High School Musical: Encore Edition from Amazon.com High School Musical
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Kenny Ortega / Writer: Peter Barsocchini

Cast: Zac Efron (Troy Bolton), Vanessa Anne Hudgens (Gabriella Montez), Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay Evans), Lucas Grabeel (Ryan Evans), Alyson Reed (Ms. Darbus), Corbin Bleu (Chad Danforth), Monique Coleman (Taylor McKessie), Olesya Rulin (Kelsi Nielsen), Chris Warren Jr. (Zeke), Bart Johnson (Coach Jack Bolton), Ryne Sanborn (Jason), Socorro Herrera (Mrs. Montez), Joey Miyashima (Principal Matsui), Leslie Pomeroy (Mrs. Bolton), Kaycee Stroh (Martha Cox)

Songs: "Start of Something New", "Get'cha Head in the Game", "What I've Been Looking For", "Stick to the Status Quo", "When There Was Me and You", "Bop to the Top", "Breaking Free", "We're All in This Together", "I Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You"

Original Air Date: January 20, 2006 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: May 23, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $26.99)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps

Disney re-released this movie on December 5, 2006 in High School Musical: Remix - 2-Disc Special Edition.
All of the Encore Edition's DVD bonus features are retained and joined by new extras, including a dance-along
featurette, a cast reunion/interview, three new music videos, and featurettes on the film's Hollywood
premiere. Click here to buy from Amazon.com and click here to read our review.

By Aaron Wallace

It did what Rent and The Producers could not: make a hit out of a musical. After several weeks of promotion, High School Musical debuted on The Disney Channel on January 20, 2006. The original telecast brought in millions of viewers (many of them pre-teens) and numerous subsequent airings have brought in millions upon millions more. Breaking records left and right, High School Musical is the most successful Disney Channel Original Movie to date and its soundtrack shot to #1 -- first on iTunes and then on Billboard -- with nearly all of its
songs charting as singles as well. Neither musicals nor made-for-TV movies are accustomed to that level of success, leaving families and critics to ponder why.

What is it about High School Musical that pushed it beyond standard tween fare into the realm of phenomenon? On its filmic merits alone, it doesn't stand out as fantastic. The acting and dialogue vary from weak to passable and it operates on an unlikely premise -- even for a musical.

For those who haven't yet caught the movie, it is the story of two high-schoolers, Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), who are randomly selected from a New Year's Eve party crowd to participate in mandatory karaoke. It turns out that they're both pretty good, something they've both known but kept to themselves to escape the judgment of their peers. A week later, Gabriella transfers to Troy's school, where she's a too-smart-for-her-own-good newbie and he's the star of the basketball team, which his dad just happens to coach. They end up auditioning for the school musical, much to the dismay of Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel), a pair of shoe-ins whose cozy sibling dynamic is slightly disturbing. As they pursue their interests, the rest of the student body begins to feel more comfortable with their true selves as well, slowly unraveling the dividing lines that govern high school society.

A round of compulsory karaoke kicks off the movie. The cast list is posted.

One could pin the movie's success on its heavy promotion, but The Disney Channel hypes most of its productions and while Zenon, Halloweentown, and Cadet Kelly were hits, none have come anywhere close to High School Musical's success. Clearly, this movie resonates with America's youth and, it seems, older audiences as well.

Music obviously factors pretty heavily into the film. As the cast is quick to point out, it ranges in style from hip-hop to salsa, hitting ballads and a twinge of jazz in between. Jazz isn't know for its appeal to a younger audience, though, and neither are showtunes. The High School Musical soundtrack changes that by infusing each of these productions with a distinctly pop sound. Each has that showy Broadway flare to it, but supported with heavy beats, delivered by computer-enhanced vocals, and coated with radio-friendly gloss. The creative dance numbers -- designed by choreographer/director Kenny Ortega (Hocus Pocus, Newsies) -- look like they could have come straight from the stage, yet there appears to be a music video quality to them. All this comes at a time when radio is filled with rap and heavy R&B. The soundtrack is a return to the bubblegum dance music that's been out of the pop scene since the turn of the century, sprinkled with today's radio's technological sensibilities. Put that song and dance together, and voilà, you've got pre-teens going ape over showtunes.

The cast is attractive in that teen hearthrob kind of way, an attribute always sure to pique a young audience's interest. Ashley Tisdale, Disney's newest diva-in-training, wears that crown well in her role as Sharpay Evans. As one of the four central characters on the hit Disney Channel series "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," she brings relative star power to the project. It helps that to promote the film, Efron and Hudgens made guest appearances on "Suite Life." Grabeel, too, is familiar to his audience as Ethan Dalloway in the popular Halloweentown High.

Bro and sis Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) and Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) ham it up on stage. Why have a food fight when you can break into song and dance?

The movie also makes a conscious effort to relate to popular culture and the modern way of life. There's a reference to Ashton Kutcher and his popular "Punk'd" series, for example, and even a cell phone motif. Most movies and TV shows mention technology while shying away from it as something practical either because it could solve an otherwise convenient-to-the-story problem or because it's too complicated to explain while remaining interesting. High School Musical falls into that latter trap once towards the end but is otherwise semi-unique in that it shows young people using technologies that young people actually use in their daily lives.

The most important key to the movie's success, though, is its ability to indulge viewers in a high school fantasy. In the world of High School Musical, exaggerated stereotypes run amuck: stern but well-meaning parents, eccentric teachers, arrogant athletes, and rigid social classes that entirely define individuals and their friends. Jocks, bookworms, and punks are each mutually exclusive and each student's actions are confined by the expectations of their peers. Of course, neither high school nor any other social network actually exists on a such a simple plane,
but it's a stereotype that past, present, and future students alike seem to enjoy engaging with. High School Musical pampers a commonly held fantasy of breaking through the constraints of social pressure to shine. Not only do the characters (all of them) succeed in that, but they gain adulation in doing so. Therein lies the greatest connection between the movie and its audience.

So, symptomatic analysis aside, is High School Musical for you? If you're in elementary school, your peers are a better judge than I, so "yes" seems a pretty safe answer. Teens of any age are likely to find the same qualities rather enjoyable if they can get past that word "Musical" in the title. However, the poppy music and high school setting may be offputting to older viewers. The movie is far from perfect and filled with contradictions (the characters sing and dance about the lameness of singing and dancing and the animosity between "hip" and singing is never fully explained), but that shouldn't be unfamiliar to any fan of musicals. Still, even if not award-worthy, the music is catchy, the humor is winning, and the spotty acting and script are at times charming in a "Full House" kind of way. Think of it as a G-rated Grease, only concerned with the internal workings of high school rather than the external social life.

Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) try a duet for the second time. The finale, as seen in the Sing Along Version.

It's not likely to be the favorite of anyone outside of its target demographic, but at the end of the day, High School Musical is a good time for viewers of any age and stands out as one of the Disney Channel's better "DCOM" Original Movies. It's refreshing to see a musical in the approximate ensemble tradition of Broadway favorites. A movie that manages to convert a lunch room into a dance floor, High School Musical succeeds as a fun musical excursion for all.

Since its January debut, High School Musical has aired both in its original form and a "Sing Along Version," both of which appear on this Encore Edition DVD. The inclusion of both versions is a big marketing point for the release, much to the satisfaction of viewers like my little cousin who recently lamented The Disney Channel's fondness for airing the Sing Along rather than the original. This second version differs only in its use of subtitles that appear on-screen during the musical numbers, each word lighting up as it is sung. These subtitles annoy when they mistakenly use "but" for "and" or, even worse, "U" for "You," but are nice to have on hand for assistance in learning the songs.

Apple iTunes

Gabriella gets a solo song, seen here in its fullscreen presentation. In this nonanamorphic widescreen version of approximately the same frame (taken from the making-of-featurette), one can see how much stands to be gained from the unincluded widescreen transfer.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The video is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen. The bonus features reveal that, like many recent Disney Channel productions, High School Musical was indeed filmed in both fullscreen and widescreen. Because it doesn't look to be a pan & scan job and it matches the aspect ratio of its original telecast, the fullscreen presentation is an acceptable one. It's discouraging, however, that the widescreen filming (always preferable for musicals) is available yet withheld. The quality of the fullscreen transfer is satisfactory, looking better than it does on television and about as good as a made-for-TV production is going to look.

Audio is very important for a movie in which characters randomly burst into song and on this Encore Edition DVD, it comes by way of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track. Of course, it was originally presented in stereo and little has been done to enhance it for a surround sound presentation. The bass levels are commendable (though the CD soundtrack has a little more oomph) and the sound quality is fine, but the rear channels are barely audible.

The "I Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" music video Kenny Ortega talks about his latest Disney musical. One of four angle options in the learn-to-dance featurette, this shows all three angles that can be viewed in fullscreen mode.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The disc comes with two music videos of songs from the movie, the lone features under the "Music and More" heading. The first, "I Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" (3:00) isn't an on-screen performance
in the movie and the video makes its debut on this disc. It features the four main stars inside the recording studio (likely for the camera as much as anything else, as the actual actors are only doing some of the singing in the movie's songs) mixed with clips from the film. The other, "We're All In This Together" (the closing number) (1:32) is very similar to the scene in the film, only with a tighter editing style and clips from elsewhere in the film as well. The music videos are nice for revisiting single songs but these weren't the only two produced for the film, which leaves one to wonder why the others didn't make the cut.

Inside the "Backstage Disney" section, one can find two more substantive segments. The first, a behind-the-scenes featurette called "Bringing It All Together: The Making of High School Musical" (8:45), features plenty of cast and crew interviews and valuable footage. It makes for an entertaining and enlightening viewing.

"Learning the Moves" (4:18) shows Tisdale and Grabeel rehearsing the "Bop to the Top" dance number. After that, the two stars, Ortega and his two assistant choreographers teach the dance routine to the audience. In a cool and unexpected touch, the DVD calls on the underused multi-angle feature of DVDs to allow viewers to watch the dance up-close, far away, in its final form, or on a split screen with all three frames side-by-side (the latter is the default setting). Too fast-paced and not very explanatory, the piece works better as a glimpse behind the movie's choreography than as a dancing tutorial.

The animated 16x9 main menu The 16x9 Bonus Features menu features music but no animation.

The movie's debut on The Disney Channel was accompanied by interstitials with the central cast discussing the film. Those and other interviews, relevant interstitials, and TV spots from The Disney Channel would have been easy and obvious inclusions, making their absence frustrating and disappointing.

More work than expected has gone into the disc's menu design, though not as much as Disney's most lavish productions. Each menu page looks like a high school locker or hallway, each true to the film,
and uses music from the movie. The pages are colorfully decorated with abundant graphics and animated photographs of stills from the movie float down the main menu screen. The standard black keepcase includes a double-sided insert that lists the chapters and most, though unfortunately not all, of the song selections.

This Encore Edition DVD has the distinction of being the first to include the first trailer for Meet the Robinsons, an upcoming Disney animated feature that looks promising, indeed. It plays automatically when the disc is inserted, along with previews for The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, Cow Belles, and "That's So Raven": Raven's Makeover Madness/"The Suite Life of Zack & Cody": Taking Over the Tipton. Additional previews for Lilo Leroy & Stitch, Eight Below, Spymate, Brother Bear 2, and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" (the show in general this time, rather than its specific DVD release) can be found on the sneak peeks menu.

The basketball team runs a scam. Troy (Zac Efron) gets his head in the game.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A lot of elements combine to make High School Musical the massive hit that it has become. It suffers from a number of the weaknesses often associated with TV movies, The Disney Channel, and musicals in general. Still, it conveys a strong sense of fun and a good bit of charm -- enough to thrill those to whom it is targeted and to win over many of those outside that age range as well. Everything on the Encore Edition is good, but the DVD loses a few points for what's not on it (an alternate widescreen transfer and already-produced supplemental material from The Disney Channel). Given these absences, Disney's penchant for reissues, and the fact that the soundtrack has already received two different releases, it's entirely possible that a better Special Edition DVD of High School Musical is in store for the future. That possibility may have some sticking with a rental for the time being but if that's not a concern, this DVD gets a recommendation.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy 2-Disc Remix DVD / Buy Trilogy DVD / Buy Trilogy Blu-ray

Buy from Amazon.com


Disney re-released this movie on December 5, 2006 in High School Musical: Remix - 2-Disc Special Edition.
All of the Encore Edition's DVD bonus features are retained and joined by new extras, including a dance-along
featurette, a cast reunion/interview, three new music videos, and featurettes on the film's Hollywood
premiere. Click here to buy from Amazon.com and here to read our review.


Read UD's report from the High School Musical DVD Launch at Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood

Related Reviews:
High School Musical: Remix - 2-Disc Special Edition DVD • High School Musical: Soundtrack CD
High School Musical 2 (Extended Edition) • High School Musical 2 (Deluxe Dance Edition) • High School Musical 3: Senior Year
High School Musical: The Concert • High School Musical DVD Game
High School Musical: 2-Disc Special Edition Soundtrack • Disney's Karaoke Series: High School Musical CD

From Director Kenny Ortega: Newsies • Hocus Pocus • The Cheetah Girls 2
Starring Ashley Tisdale and Featuring Zac Efron: The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Taking Over the Tipton

Disney Channel and Other TV Productions:
Once Upon a Mattress • Little House on the Prairie • Halloweentown & Halloweentown II: Double Feature
Cadet Kelly • Return to Halloweentown • The Muppets' Wizard of Oz • Angels in the Endzone

Disney Goes to High School:
Sky High • The Princess Diaries (Special Edition) • Ice Princess • Remember the Titans (Director's Cut)
Boy Meets World: The Complete Third Season • Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen • Halloweentown High
Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season • Popular: The Complete Second Season

Other Musicals from Disney and Its Various Branches:
Pete's Dragon • The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band
The Happiest Millionaire (Roadshow Edition) • Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Edition) • Bride & Prejudice

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Reviewed May 23, 2006.