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    I Wrote Down Everything I Think Is True About "High School Musical," And Then I Watched It For The First Time

    "I'm not afraid, I'm just...scared." Me too, Zac Efron. Me too.

    Dear reader, I have a confession to make: I've never seen High School Musical.

    The cast of High School Musical
    Disney / Courtesy Everett Collection

    If you're incredulous and/or disgusted, you wouldn't be the first.

    Despite the fact that roughly 99.9%* of people my age tell me that their first concert was HSM-related, I somehow missed this essential cultural moment.

    Disney / Via giphy.com

    *This statistic isn't real, but it feels real, right?

    But even though I know literally nothing about the plot, characters, or mise-en-scène of High School Musical, I'm a scholar of Disney Channel Original Movies, and I think I can correctly guess a lot of what happens during this film.

    Disney / Via giphy.com

    I wrote down 19 predictions before watching, and I'm going to grade myself on how many I get right. Yes, I went to film school. No, this isn't what my parents thought I'd be doing with my degree.

    I think I'm going to get at least 12/19 correct, or 63%. You might be thinking, "Mary, that's a failing grade." But you know what I'm thinking? That it's time to watch High School Musical.

    Disney / Via giphy.com

    Let me be clear: I genuinely don't know what this movie is about. I've never seen a clip or read a Wikipedia summary. I didn't have siblings or friends who were super into this franchise, and I never went to an elementary school birthday party where we ate supermarket cake off of Zac Efron paper plates. But maybe today is the day I become a fan.

    1. Most of the teenagers in the movie are played by actors who were actually teenagers at the time.

    Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, both 18 during filming, and Ashley Tisdale, who was 20
    Disney / Via youtube.com

    HALF-CREDIT ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    This is something I could look up before starting the movie: While Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, and Monique Coleman were all in their 20s during filming, the two leads (Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron) were both teenagers, as was Corbin Bleu. Therefore, I'm awarding myself half-credit.

    2. Vanessa Hudgens is the new girl in school.

    Vanessa Hudgens on her first day of school
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    08:55 — I didn't anticipate her and Zac Efron meeting before her first day, though. Also, apparently their characters are named Gabriella and Troy, which I sort of knew, in the same hazy way that I sort of know who my state representative is.

    3. Cheerleaders get a weird amount of hate.

    Taylor and Gabriella make fun of cheerleaders
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    22:48 — Gabriella's new friend Taylor demonstrates that "speaking cheerleader" means being ditzy and annoying. This is yet another piece of evidence that DCOMs are just an elaborate experiment in anti-cheerleader propaganda.

    4. Everyone is broke except for Ashley Tisdale.

    Troy Bolton's super nice house
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    WRONG ❌

    23:22 — Troy's house is basically a McMansion, and it even comes with its own mini basketball court! I can almost smell the beige carpet of its finished basement from here. Also, now that I think of it, both Troy and Gabriella's families could afford a ski vacation, so they're obviously doing fine.

    5. Zac Efron is counting on a basketball scholarship to go to college. (Bonus if it’s an Ivy, double bonus if it’s Princeton. I think I’m getting this movie confused with A Cinderella Story.)

    Troy's dad emphasizes the importance of a college scholarship to his son
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    23:58 — No mention of the actual schools, but Troy's dad brings up college scouts coming to the "big game" in a few weeks, and emphasizes the importance of scholarships. Troy's dad is also his basketball coach, because in the Magic Kingdom, there's no such thing as a conflict of interest.

    6. Zac Efron is forced to participate in the school musical as punishment.

    Troy volunteers for the school musical
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    WRONG ❌

    34:48 — In a stirring turn of events, Troy volunteers to audition in order to help Gabriella out. This has been my biggest HSM misconception so far: I figured Troy would start out as a bit of a jerk and then blossom into a better human being through the heroic patience of Gabriella (damn you, deeply ingrained rom-com gender roles). But so far, he's a sweet guy!

    7. There’s a big number in the cafeteria, and everyone dances on those round tables we all had to sit at.

    a dance number in the cafeteria
    Disney / Via youtube.com

    CORRECT ✅

    38:55 — Okay, I nailed this one. Somehow, though, I failed to predict what immediately follows this song: Gabriella accidentally ruining Sharpay's outfit with chili cheese fries. That's an early 2000s teen movie classic!

    8. Everyone's a junior.

    the team intimidates Troy into refocusing on basketball
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    58:38 — Chad (Corbin Bleu) says during the basketball team's weird anti-musical intervention that Troy was the first sophomore to ever make varsity, which is why this year they voted him team captain. Therefore, Troy and his friends are juniors. It's this sort of attention to meaningless detail that distinguishes the finest DCOM scholars.

    9. Vanessa Hudgens gets mistreated by Zac Efron at some point.

    Troy's team gives him a picture of his Dad
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    1:00:50 — During the aforementioned intervention, Troy's basketball team secretly records him saying that he doesn't care about the musical or Gabriella. Unfortunately, the academic decathlon team is live-streaming Troy's betrayal to Gabriella. In Troy's defense, he said what he did in response to what I can only describe as cult-like intimidation tactics. (They handed him a picture of his dad! Who does that?)

    10. Zac Efron sings a ballad to make up for...whatever it is he did.

    Troy surprises Gabriella by showing up on her little porch
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    1:11:42 — To apologize, Troy shows up at Gabriella's house and says he has something for her. That something? The beautiful gift of song.

    11. This dialogue exchange happens: “It’s your dream!” “No, Dad. It’s yours.”

    Coach Barton tells his son he wants him to have fun
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    WRONG ❌

    1:18:20 — I'd like to personally apologize to Coach Bolton for assuming he'd be a monster. Right before the big game, he tells Troy that all he wants is to see his son have fun. That's an unexpectedly reasonable request from someone who's come across as a bit of a basketball drill sergeant.

    12. The marching band gets involved in at least one song.

    The marching band during the final number
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    1:35:20 — Okay, so they're not really marching so much as bobbing in place, but this is clearly a band designed for movement.

    13. The final scene incorporates fireworks in some way.

    Fireworks from the opening scene
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    HALF-CREDIT ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    (06:37 — The opening scene does in fact contain a very impressive fireworks display. So whatever happens at the end of the movie, let it be known that I'm giving myself partial credit on this one.)

    The movie just ended and I'm keeping my partial credit.

    And that was High School Musical! I had a couple predictions that I was holding out until the end to rule on, so let's see how I did with those.

    Disney / Via giphy.com

    14. Only one parent and one teacher have actual characterizations/storylines.

    Coach Bolton and Ms. Darbus
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    CORRECT ✅

    In the grand tradition of teen movies, only two adults (at most) are allowed to matter, and Coach Bolton and drama teacher Ms. Darbus are those two.

    15. We never find out what exactly the high school musical is.

    The composer of the school musical
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    HALF-CREDIT ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Here's what we know about the musical: It's called Twinkle Towne and it was written by a student. Here's what we don't: Literally everything else. I know this movie has between one and four sequels; is one of them High School Musical: Twinkle Towne, The Musical? If not, that's a free idea, Disney.

    16. Ashley Tisdale owns no more than five and no less than two Pomeranians.

    Sharpay screams in reaction to the cast list
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    WRONG ❌

    I'm technically wrong but so is this production for missing a clear opportunity.

    17. Someone breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges how weird it is that they’re all singing all the time.

    the basketball team does group choreo during "get your head in the game"
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    WRONG ❌

    In a way, "but dude, singing is weird" is the plot of this movie, but there's nothing meta about the musical hate within East High.

    18. This exact choreography happens: There’s a jock watching the singing and dancing with his arms crossed and a dismissive expression, and then when they reach the chorus, he suddenly joins in. Bonus points if he does a bunch of cartwheels.

    Corbin Bleu does a midair split
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    WRONG ❌

    The jocks are enthusiastic participants in all the group choreography, but this particular moment is nowhere to be found. In its place, please enjoy this photo of Corbin Bleu doing a midair split.

    19. There has to be a prom, right?

    The final "we're all in this together" number
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

    WRONG ❌

    Apparently, there doesn't! I didn't account for the compressed time frame of this movie. So many teen movies cover an entire year, or at least a semester, with the spring prom being the emotional high-point. Once again, High School Musical defies expectations by taking place over what seems like two weeks at most. But I will be SHOCKED if this doesn't come up in the sequels.

    *sigh*

    The cast with the final score (55%)
    Disney / Courtesy Everett Collection
    Final Thoughts
    Getty / Juan Jose Lopez Brotons / EyeEm

    I ended today's experiment with a worse score than I expected, bringing my straight-up F down to a note on my test asking me to stay after class. But as much fun as it was when I got something right, it was almost better to see my most cynical assumptions proven wrong: Troy's not an awful jock stereotype, Coach Bolton just wants his star athlete son to be happy, and the central couple actually likes each other from the start. I see why people loved this movie, and in a lot of ways, it stands out from its teen movie peers. But Sharpay not owning Pomeranians is ridiculous.

    Thank you for coming with me on this journey of self-discovery. I'll leave you with the one joke from this movie that made me, a fully grown adult, laugh out loud.

    the basketball team spells out GO DRAMA CLUB, with Troy adding "Exclamation point!"
    Disney / Via disneyplus.com

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