"Troy + Gabriella = True Love"
High School Musical 2, like its forerunner, revolves around the bumpy teenage romance of Troy, East High School's reigning basketball MVP, and beautiful, brainy Gabriella. Their unlikely relationship—based, apparently, on mutual respect and catchy song-and-dance numbers—is still going strong; so much so that Troy gives Gabriella a pretty little necklace with a big "T" pendant.
The "T" stands for Troy. But it might well also stand for Trouble. School diva Sharpay—a G-rated Paris Hilton wannabe with a Barbie-pink golf cart—has her eyes on East High's top jock, too. She believes she and Troy are destined to be together (or, at the very least, sing together). So to help their nonexistent relationship along, she gets Troy a summer job at her daddy's swank country club.
"Troy, I've always known you were special," she says. "And it's pretty obvious I'm special, too."
Troy convinces the club's manager to hire everyone from East High who can carry a tune, including lovely Gabriella. But Troy's friends can't protect him from Sharpay's money and influence. Thanks in part to her finagling, Troy gets a promotion, conditional club membership and new Italian shoes. The basketball squad at the University of Albuquerque takes a shine to the lad, and Sharpay suggests that, with her pop's help, she could get him a scholarship there. It doesn't take long before Troy starts ignoring his high school buds and skipping dates with Gabriella.
The final straw comes when Troy agrees to sing a duet with Sharpay in the country club's ballyhooed talent competition. Gabriella suddenly begins to think the "T" on her necklace stands for Two-Faced Trickster. So she quits her new job and (gasp!) breaks up with her big man on campus. (That's BMOG for those of you who might want to save time while texting this review to a friend.)
This franchise's teeming fans would surely lay siege to the Mouse House's corporate headquarters (assuming their parents would drive them there) if Troy and Gabriella missed out on their predestined "happily ever after" ending.
That's no knock on this mostly innocent, usually charming, always tuneful dance-fest, though. The first High School Musical proved there's a gargantuan market for kids' movies free of sex, swearing or any self-aware irony. The second shows that Disney isn't about to mess with a sure thing.
When Sharpay discovers her East High schoolmates have been working on a musical number with her brother, she loses it: "I said keep an eye on them—not turn them into the cast of Grease," she fumes.
But this is not Grease. Thematically, it's far, far better. In Grease, the good girl turns bad to get the guy. In HSM2, the bad girl turns good and still doesn't get the guy. She's OK with that, though. At least until the next sequel.
Troy is a good kid who likes his friends, his "favorite girl" and even his parents. When his summer job starts taking so many turns for the better, he talks the matter over with his dad, asking his advice.
"Never be ashamed of attention as long as you've earned it," Troy's father says.
Good advice, because Troy has earned it. Scouts who watch him play basketball comment on his dedication, energy and attitude. He charms college bigwigs with modest, aw-shucks charm paired with real athletic ability. He gets into Sharpay's clutches, in part, because he promises to sing with her—and he doesn't want to break his promise. He wrestles with issues of what's right and wrong and, eventually, finds he's committed to doing what's right, whatever it might cost him.
"I wanna make it right/That is the way," he sings, "to turn my life around/Today is the day/Am I the type of guy who means what I say?/Bet on it!"
Troy does lets the attention go to his head for a while. He snootily asks best friend/busboy Chad to take a hamburger back to the kitchen and have it prepared correctly. He leaves his old team behind to play pickup ball with his new college friends. And, worst of all, he starts skipping out on dates with Gabriella. But all that's just a setup for him making better choices and teaching a few life lessons—like the value of figuring out how to try new things in life without blowing off your current companions.
Gabriella, meanwhile, loyally trusts Troy until she sees him turning into a different sort of person. And when she breaks up with him, she does it tenderly (of course, in song). "We might find our place in this world someday/But at least for now I gotta go my own way," she sings.
[Spoiler Warning] Before it's all over except the last song, Troy and Chad patch up their rift and become as good as "brothers" again. Even Sharpay is redeemed, giving a precious trophy to her overshadowed brother.
Sharpay's mom and brother exercise by doing yoga.
Troy and Gabriella clearly have eyes for each other, but that's about it. In the first High School Musical, they never even kissed. This time around, they do smooch a couple of times in a scene punctuated by (real) fireworks. And their day-to-day interactions are slightly more sensual than in the first film. Troy rubs Gabriella's arm a couple of times, and the two spend some giggly time on a sprinkler-drenched golf course and in the club's swimming pool.
A few of the outfits are more risqué than the first time around, too—but again, only slightly, and largely because of the film's setting. It's summertime in hot Albuquerque, so guys and girls alike wear swimwear in several scenes. Girls appear in one-piece suits or tankinis, exposing a sliver of midriff or a bit of cleavage. Boys wear typical baggy trunks.
Dance numbers can feature a hip-wiggle or two, but the tone is more gleeful than sexual. Eying a girl at school, Chad says he needs to earn money "so I can take that little hottie on a proper date."
Troy and Chad nearly come to blows in the country club's kitchen.
Crude or Profane Language
These high schoolers don't swear like, well, high schoolers. In fact, the rowdiest they get is saying "gosh" and "golly" a time or two.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The most rebellious Troy and Gabriella get is when they take an after-hours dip—swimsuits fully intact—in the country club pool. Sharpay calls her mother a "backstabber." But she's the villain, right? She's supposed to be a little nasty. And she's also supposed to be a little materialistic. "Fetch me my Jimmy Choo flip-flops," Sharpay sings. "Where is my pink Prada tote?/I need my Tiffany hair band/Then I can go for a float."
When her plans go awry, she can't at first understand why "fate" would've ruined her life so. "I've never lied—except when necessary," she wails. "I always bought my parents expensive gifts—using their credit cards, of course, but ..."
We all know about the High School Musical phenomenon. We know the first movie has been seen by nearly 200 million viewers worldwide. We know the original soundtrack was the best-selling album of 2006. We know the second soundtrack has already topped the charts, selling more than a half-million units its first week of release. We know that this second movie became the most-watched cable show ever when more than 17 million people tuned in to watch its premiere. We also know that another 3 jillion kids are watching it on DVD and during Disney Channel's countless reruns.
We know. We know.
But the question isn't whether HSM2 is huge. It's whether it's good.
The answer: Yes. But.
The minor problems High School Musical 2 has don't lie in the usual pitfalls of sex or violence or crude humor. They lie in the Disney philosophy itself: HSM2 steers clear of God as a potential solution to anything and instead tells us to look within ourselves. When Troy decides to make things right again, he sings, "The answers are all inside of me/All I gotta do is believe." That quasi-inspirational theme is found, more or less, in every Disney product that's come out in the last 20 years.
The film is also a hearty salute to summer, youth and the here-and-now. Characters harp on making the moment last and, when Troy starts contemplating his future and taking some concrete steps toward solidifying a bit of it, he's ostracized.
Granted, living for the moment is biblical. Jesus says in Matthew 6 that "tomorrow will worry about itself." But it's biblical to plan a little, too (Proverbs 21:5).
But I've just thought harder about High School Musical than even its screenwriter, Peter Barsocchini, has. Barsocchini says, "We're making a musical, not social statements." Point taken. So I'll end with this:
The Disney Channel has somehow found a way to balance content-conscious family entertainment with the all-too-real tyranny of the bottom line. And as its much-beloved TV movie informs scores of young fans that nice guys can finish first, it also proves that nice movies can, too.