Everything Disney touches lately seems to turn to gold, including one property that I still don't understand: "High School Musical". The first film was harmless, inoffensive feel-good fare that I found pleasant enough, but not noteworthy in any way. Yet, the franchise went on to gross an extraordinary amount via sold-out concert dates, stage productions, DVDs and much more.
The second film sees the characters heading out to a country club for Summer Break. Troy (Zac Efron) heads off to a club somewhere in the Southwest to work and have fun during Summer break. He also manages to talk the manager into giving Gabriela (Vanessa Hudgens) a gig as a lifeguard at the club, much to the irritation of Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), the wealthy girl who wants to steal Troy away for herself and will use the power of her family in order to win him over.
As Sharpay's family uses their influence in order to get Troy more privileges and potentially a scholarship, Gabriela and Troy's other friends worry that he's changed. Meanwhile, there's a talent show coming up at the club and Sharpay wants Troy to star in it with her, while Troy wants to do the number he prepared with Gabriela. Sharpay's brother Ryan, feeling ditched when she participates in the show with Troy, helps the other main characters - like returning Chad (Corbin Bleu) - put together a number of their own.
I'm still not converted to a hardcore "High School Musical" follower by this sequel, although I do have to say that I actually found this film - despite its flaws - to actually be more enjoyable in ways than the original. The film doesn't look to have any higher budget than the original - returning director Kenny Ortega has once again produced what looks like a made-for-TV movie - but the picture does benefit from the change of scene as the country club at least provides some variation.
Some of the performances see improvement, as well, especially Tisdale, who steals a few scenes as what's essentially the villain of the picture. Hudgens is also appealing, as well, although Efron still looks like a deer caught in headlights. The songs and choreography are pure bubblegum fluff, but some manage to be catchy in their cotton candy way. Still, even with several songs (including an additional tune in this extended version, which can also be viewed separately), the picture does feel mildly overextended at nearly 2 hours, when a tighter 100-105 minutes could have kept the pace tight and consistent.
I figure I'm never going to be in the target audience for this franchise, but "High School 2" proved to be a somewhat snappier, more lively sequel than the original. If there's going to be a third film in the series (of course there is), lets hope that the filmmakers can once again change up the scenery and give the picture a bigger scope.
VIDEO: "High School Musical" is presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are an improvement over the rather nice DVD presentation. Sharpness and detail are improved, as the picture does have an additional level of clarity, smoothness and definition that looks quite good. There's even some nice depth to the image at times, as well.
A few minor instances of artifacting were noticed, but certainly didn't cause much distraction at all. The print used was pristine and no additional concerns were noticed. The film's bright, candy-colored color palette appeared mildly brighter and bolder on this Blu-Ray edition, but didn't appear overdone/oversaturated. It's nice to see the film presented here in 1.78:1 widescreen after 1.33:1 full-frame presentations of the two HSM films on DVD.
SOUND: The film is presented in PCM 5.1 on Blu-Ray by Disney. The soundtrack isn't hugely aggressive, but does come to life during the musical numbers, where the rear speakers provide some reinforcement of the music. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and bassy tunes. On some occasions, the songs did sound a little too "music video" (as if the songs were recorded in studio and just laid over the movie audio.) Hopefully, the third film will allow the songs to sound a little less studio-polished and a little more "in the moment". The PCM presentation does offer a bit more oomph to the music and somewhat improved clarity, but the differences weren't major.
EXTRAS: The most significant extra is a 35-minute featurette that watches as the cast and crew rehearse every song in the film, coming up with some additions as they work on the songs on-set and off. We also get music videos, bloopers, a sneak preview for "Phineas and Ferb" (a new Disney animated show), a "jump to a song" feature and karaoke feature. It's disappointing that the cast and/or crew couldn't be brought in to do a commentary for the feature.
Final Thoughts: I figure I'm never going to be in the target audience for this franchise, but "High School 2" proved to be a somewhat snappier, more lively sequel than the original. If there's going to be a third film in the series (of course there is), lets hope that the filmmakers can once again change up the scenery and give the picture a bigger scope. The Blu-Ray edition ups the audio/video quality, but sticks with the same set of extras. Recommended for fans.
The Film B-