A basic cable tween and teen phenomenon became a big-screen tween and teen phenomenon when High School Musical 3: Senior Year debuted over the weekend. The first theatrical installment of the Disney Channel film series earned $42 million for its opening weekend, practically guaranteeing more encore installments at the cineplex.
Some critics are charmed by the films' anachronistic wholesomeness.
Anthony Lane of the New Yorker says of the singing, dancing students, "They give excellent value for money, launching into song the way that normal folk go to the bathroom – regularly, politely, and because, if they didn't, well, darn it, they might just burst." Salon.com's Stephanie Zacharek cheers, saying, "The overall vibe of "HSM 3" isn't so far off from the "Let's put on a show!" boisterousness of the old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals. Since when shouldn't it be fun to spend 90 minutes or so watching good-looking young people, singing and dancing relatively well?"
Critics split over whether it's a problem that the film's vision of the high school experience is too good to be true. The New York Times' Stephen Holden asks, "So what if these wholesome singing-and-dancing characters include no teenagers you or I will ever meet? If you dropped the term 'friends with benefits' to any of these absurdly idealized youth who appear to have descended from the same planet that produced 'The Brady Bunch,' you may rest assured they wouldn't know what you were talking about." Scott Tobias of the Onion AV Club proves more ambivalent: "Coiffed with what must have been a budget-busting supply of styling gel, the cast of High School Musical 3: Senior Year looks not just freshly scrubbed, but manicured, exfoliated, and dipped in a vat of hot wax. Before deodorants, colognes, and perfumes are added, their natural odor is probably 'new car smell.'"
Others were even less kind. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone dismisses the film with, "If you're gay and/or eight years old, HSM3 is the movie event of the year." MSNBC's Alonso Duralde, an admitted fan of the film's two predecessors, laments, "This latest and last of the series is a stitched-together Frankenstein monster of an entertainment, featuring major components that were already trotted out the first two times." Dave White of Movies.com concurs, saying, "Someone forgot to tell the songs that they were supposed to be as good as the art direction and the choreography ... . There's even a song simply called 'High School Musical.' If it were a musical about chocolate chip cookies it would be like all the cookies got together to sing a song about how they were chocolate chip cookies."