The Rookie Reviews: Disney's "High School Musical"

I am a sucker for story. Jokes are great, but in the end they don't say much. I need to see a meaning. I am also powerfully affected by music. Often the very cheesiest gets to me the most. If there weren't a grain of truth in all cliches, they wouldn't stay with us for so long.

All that said, it's very natural that I would feel drawn to Disney's new original movie "High School Musical." While full of cliches and stereotyped characters, the movie speaks a series of overwhelming true messages.

"It's a movie about breaking free from what you normally do," said Lucas Grabeel, in an interview with the cast. And unless one is already perfect, and therefore has no need to break away from anything, what more Christian message can there be?

High school, for most of the students in it, is a time for developing talents and learning how to cope with gradually more adult situations. It is also a time when adolescents, in searching for a unique identity, often pick one talent and work on it exclusively, avoiding standing out by trying new things and, on not instantly succeeding, feeling marked with that failure.

East High in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the setting of "High School Musical" has a student body divided into distinct chunks-- the basketball team, the drama club, the science decathlon team, and everyone else. The lines between groups are difficult to cross, and no one really tries to, until the basketball team captain, Troy, meets the new student, a brilliant science student named Gabriella, on New Year's Eve and sings a karaoke duet with her. When tryouts for the winter musical are announced back at school, the two end up auditioning for the lead roles.

When the rest of the students find out that Troy, the basketball star, can sing, other students start to confess their secret dreams to their friends as well. Another hoopster likes to bake. A heavyset girl loves hip-hop dance. Another guy plays the cello-- unfortunately I don't remember why this is out of character.

Enter the dark side of the theater; a brother and sister pair who have starred in 17 of the school's productions are aren't intending to be less than the lead in the current one. This exploring new things just won't do, they decide.

The basketball and science teams aren't sure they like it either, and they set up Troy and Gabriella to drop out of the play. But no matter how hard anyone tries, the show (I'm sorry, but I have to say it) must go on. And it must go in with the basketball team captain and the science star in it. I won't give away any more than the beginning, middle and ending of this movie!

As required, a mild romantic subplot develops; the drama coach is an unaffirmed prima donna with a passionate hatred for cell phones; the principal is vaguely incompetent and favors the sports side over the arts side of his school, though he protests neutrality; and Troy's father is the overly driven basketball coach who doesn't understand that his son might be both an athlete and an artist, and still exist in this reality.

Still, the movie tells a redeeming story. In real life, athletes do have talented voices. I have personally met a very intelligent cute kid (in the mirror every morning.) And while I rail against parents who pressure their kids in directions that are important mostly to the parents, I have also seen them come around in the end to see why the new adventure was so important to try, as Troy's father did. Sometimes, our students don't see these real-life stories because the environment they grow up in isn't friendly to finding new gifts, so they end up hidden. At the same time, sometimes all it takes is an open, entertaining glimpse that those gifts are out there, and our real students will see it and start to talk.

Here's a story to tell all our students. Yes, it's full of corny music. No, it will not connect with every student. But there are bits of truth, bits of Gospel, bits of the promise of life all through "High School Musical" and it is worth looking at.

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