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 2" is presented by Disney in the film's original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The presentation quality is fine enough, although falls a little short of expectations. Sharpness and detail are just satisfactory, as I thought the picture looked a touch soft throughout much of the show.
While detail and definition were a tad lackluster, the picture didn't suffer from many other concerns, aside from a couple of trace instances of edge enhancement and artifacting. Colors appeared bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 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".
EXTRAS: This new "Dance Edition" DVD set includes a free (up to $7.50) movie ticket for the third film, which is coming to theatres 10/24/08. Speaking of the third film, the main extra on the second disc in the set is a preview of the third film, which is essentially an extended trailer that offers a few interviews with both main & new cast, as well as clips. We also get a series of "scrapbook" featurettes, including a look at the special appearance by Miley Cyrus in the movie. "Cast Favorites" is a look at cast favs (Favorite Song, Favorite Movie, Etc.)
"In the Kitchen" is a short featurette looking into filming on the kitchen set, while "On Location" is a short look at some of the different locations used for filming. Also included are a look at the making of the extended musical sequence seen on the DVD, the "All For One" music video, an interactive dance-along, 19 different music videos from a series of international artists doing their takes on songs from the movie (I thought this was the most interesting extra in the set) and 4 deleted scenes.
The extras from the previous special edition have also been carried over here: 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. This new "Dance-Off" edition adds another disc that offers an assortment of minor extras, as well as a movie ticket for the third film. Fans looking forward to the third film may want to consider seeking this new "Dance Edition" on sale.
The Film B-