This may be categorised under TerriBrill, but the High School Musical series leans more towards the “brill” half of that made-up word. It’s no Citizen Kane, sure, but it is a source of unbridled joy and camp sensibility. No film in the series, however, has such a concentrated dose of brilliant madness than High School Musical 2.
Bolstered by the success of High School Musical, this sequel has free reign to take more risks, and therein lies the madness. Sharpay’s signature number, Fabulous, features her twin brother Ryan dressed as Elton John, playing a pink piano in a swimming pool. Troy’s angst is conveyed in the most incredibly naff song across the whole series, Bet On It. Emoting and dancing like a lunatic on an abandoned golf course, Efron admirably throws himself into the bizarre number, his CGI face staring back at him in the water, contorted in over-exaggerated pain. In one song, Bet On It summarises the High School Musical franchise in its entirety.
But the greatest risk High School Musical takes is with the number I Don’t Dance. A subplot of the movie involves a live showcase (of course) where Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), put out that Sharpay has neglected him for Troy, tries to stage his friends in a production, but Troy’s jock best friend Chad (Corbin Bleu) is reluctant, both due to Ryan’s growing closeness to Gabriella (a source of tension, despite the fact that Ryan is clearly gay) and his own hatred of dance. I Don’t Dance sees Ryan and Chad battle it out on a baseball field, Ryan insistent that if he can play baseball, Chad can dance. And it is the filthiest thing in the entire Disney canon. Full of innuendos like “I’ll show you how I swing”, intentionally intense dance routines, and ending with Ryan and Chad wearing each other's clothes and eating hotdogs, it’s clear what subtext Disney were conveying here.
The other delight of High School Musical 2 away from its predecessor is just how funny it all is. With the focus away slightly from the Troy/Gabriella relationship, other characters get the time to shine, and many have hilarious moments. Sharpay and Ryan are a hilarious double act, as Ryan exasperatedly assists Sharpay in her schemes. Minor characters like skater dude Jason and “Creme Brulee Guy” Zeke get their roles expanded (although in Zeke’s case, it’s expanded to further baking.) And it’s all set in a wild, exciting, entirely unrealistic summer.
High School Musical gets a bad press, but I dare anyone to not find some glimmer of enjoyment from any of the films in the trilogy, especially the second film. It is a Disney musical with an entire song about bumsex, Zac Efron dancing with a golf club, and Sharpay Evans being the most excellently camp villain outside of pantomime. What more do you want?