What Team? Wildcats! Which High School Musical Movie is the Best?

Ava Mac ’21, Entertainment Section Editor

Jan. 20 marks the thirteenth anniversary of the genesis of one of the most iconic trilogies to grace its era. Its golden anthems of self-discovery and love still can be heard bellowing in the hearts and souls of all who are so blessed to have listened, and its dramatic tales of heartbreak and friendship (arguably) punch a stronger impact than any work written by the mighty hands of Shakespeare. Yes, you guessed it, we are talking about High School Musical.

Raking in billions of dollars for each movie’s release and the fabulous merchandise to transpire, the hit Disney Channel original film series directed by Kenny Ortega followed the story of East High students Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens), Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel) and many others in the struggles of finding one’s identity, taking risks for love, and grappling with the future over the course of three semesters and a single summer. These three films singlehandedly became the most successful movies on Disney Channel and also the paradigm for the channel’s future classics.

Each film tells its own separate story, supported by a unique and fresh soundtrack, and carries a raw, emotional atmosphere. Although each does so well, which one is truly the best?

  1. High School Musical (2006)

The first High School Musical ranks as the worst one, as it lacks the vibrance and higher production levels of the other films. But it deserves some credit: as junior Madison Strachan put it, this was the film that “started everything.” Without it, “there would be no High School Musical 2 or 3.High School Musical begins the beautiful journey that is Troy and Gabriella’s relationship and their inspired deconstruction of the status quo. While it may be the oldest, its songs still withstand the test of time, especially “We’re All in This Together,” which remains today as an anthem for teamwork and the beauty of friendship.

  1. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

Ranked at second but chronologically last, this movie brings the series to a close with the perfect emotional punch needed for such a tale. As a theatrical release, the production levels go beyond what the first installment could not offer, giving way for a stronger story and a stronger conclusion. Songs like “Now or Never” and “Walk Away” heighten the intensity of the drama, and songs like “Right Here, Right Now” and “We’re All in This Together (Reprise)” bring it to a tear-jerking close. Sophomore Olivia Patanis explained it as “sad and cute, all at the same time,” with the poignant portrayal of Gabriella and Troy’s relationship and the bittersweet ending of their high school careers. While impeccably wrapping up the story, the addition of new characters to create conflict, such as the introduction of the British Sharpay knockoff, Tiara Gold, or the Troy Bolton fanboy, Jimmy Zara, did feel awkward as they were shoved in at the last moment.

  1.  High School Musical 2 (2007)

The second film, despite being in a completely new setting and not taking place during the school year as its title would suggest, is the best for this very reason. As it conquers the characters’ questions about the future and continues to deliver the message of staying true to one’s self and one’s friends, it also acts as a love letter to summer, with songs like “What Time Is It?” and “Fabulous” that make this movie a reminder of summertime bliss. The rest of the soundtrack is packed to the brim with hits and jams that are charged with all of the excited and animated energy that makes the High School Musical series the High School Musical series. Wonderful little details of this film, such as Miley Cyrus’s sneaky cameo in the final scene, or the hilarious exclusive song by Sharpay on the CD edition, add even more charm to make this the best movie of the whole franchise.

Regardless of any ranking system, and no matter which High School Musical film is held the closest to your heart, the series as a whole would not be the same missing any one of its movies. The characters, songs, and spirit brought upon by each impacted a whole generation, and it will continue to do so with its new television series in development. Although it may not be free of faults, it will still maintain a legacy of being an embodiment of the glorious high school fantasy we have dreamt of for so long.

Photo courtesy of imbd.com

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