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High School Musical 3 

This is a pop phenomenon more than a movie.

The bright, young cast of High School Musical 3: Senior Year earns the hugely popular kid franchise whatever sunny vapidity Frankie and Annette brought to the Beach Party movies. Like the first two Disney Channel productions, the theatrical part three could use some melodrama to liven things. Sure, High School Musical 3 is better than Chicago and Dreamgirls, but it must be accepted that this is a pop phenomenon more than it is a movie. For fans, that shouldn't matter. The songs lack the Schoolhouse Rock bounce of the first movie's "Stick to the Status Quo" (what should have been the paradigm for HSM's musical direction), and the showstoppers aren't at the standard of contemporary music videos. But director Kenny Ortega has at least stepped up his game, delivering a couple standout sequences. The junkyard dancing of "The Boys are Back" has a Bad-phase Michael Jackson appeal. And Ortega visualizes star Zac Efron's crossroads-angst number "Scream" by displaying his fevered uncertainty in a hailstorm of basketballs. The dilemma over whether high school sweethearts Gabriella and Troy (Vanessa Hudgens and Efron) will be together next year is played so lightly only pre-adolescents could really find it engaging. The strange thing despite this is that High School Musical 3 understands teenage challenges better than most teen movies. Troy's agonizing over whether to follow through on a Juilliard scholarship displays how youth desire acceptance and independence, even when they're at odds with one another. As cash-cow sequels go, this one's shiny and happy. It should be more slamming, but kids have been sold far worse.

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