Three of the last four weekends have seen a G-rated Disney film with essentially no value to an audience over 12 years old leading the box-office: first Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and now High School Musical 3: Senior Year, although at least this sequel to the two blockbuster Disney Channel Original Movies didn't LIE about itself the way that the Chihuahua marketing campaign did. Then it hits me, that the company could have fixed both of these films just by swapping the concepts: that way, Beverly Hills Chihuahua could have delivered on its promise of hideous CGI animals singing showtunes, while High School Musical 3 would have featured Zak Efron being chased across Mexico by a talking doberman.

Or something like that. Anything to show off the fact that yes, this is a High School Musical on the big screen, made with a real movie budget, and watching Efron getting mauled by dogs is merely one of the many exciting things that HSM3 might have given to the world. After all, any TV-to-movie property usually makes a big deal out of using the lax censorship of the silver screen to go places too rough for television, and obviously Vanessa Hudgens doesn't have any prudish hang-ups about amateur porn, theoretically leaving things open for a sex-and-drugs-fueled romp about rape and bloody gang violence danced out to terrible pop music. And barring that as something which was clearly never going to fucking happen, at least the deeply stereotypical gay kid (he's a choreographer who wears lots of pink and designer hats) could have come out of the closet, instead of pairing off with one of the only available single girls, although then I remembered that this was Disney, and that a male character saying "I like boys" was even less likely than my "musical I Spit on Your Grave for tweens" idea.

Instead of any of that, here's what we get: High School Musical and High School Musical 2 again, with a slightly larger number of locations and more background dancers. Storywise, it's still all about Troy Bolton (Efron), the basketball god of Albuquerque's East High, finding himself torn between sport and his love of the singin' and the dancin', supported by his tremendously impersonal girlfriend Gabriella Montez (Hudgens), and sort of also by his teammates and his father (Bart Johnson), who obviously looks to Gabriella as some kind of totem keeping his boy from Teh Gay. Meanwhile, the rich Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) schemes like a silent movie villain to separate Troy and Gabriella so that she can sing the big showstopping number with Troy and get all the fame and glory, though in this episode she no longers enlists the help of her brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), the aforementioned cartoon homosexual, who for once starts out on the side of the good guys - probably the biggest single change in the general story outline between this film and its two predecessors, and if it seems like "the second-tier villain isn't a villain anymore" is an awfully small thing to be the biggest difference, you begin to appreciate the flaws with HSM3.

Oh, the other big difference is that a few new characters are introduced, so that when they form the backbone of High School Musical 4, nobody will be too confused. The worst of these is a twerp with a man-crush on Troy, named Jimmie Zara (Matt Prokop), whose name sounds kind of like a mafia movie character, you know, Jimmie "Little Tuna" Zara, although his given nickname in the film is "Rocketblast" or some damned thing.

I do not blame Disney for this wearying attack of noncreativity, which isn't Bad any more than it's Good, for it is a business venture after all, and they can rightly assume that their target audience won't care. Which is my cue to reprint something from my Beverly Hills Chihuahua review (hey, if they can copy themselves, I can copy myself, and it's a rant about the same studio, after all): "the world would be a lot healthier overall if the creators of children's entertainment didn't hold their audience in such contempt, and actually put some effort into making kids' movies and TV shows that were actually smart. The Wizard of Oz and Disney's own Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, just to grab a handful of titles, are actively good movies, tremendously pleasing examples of the best of the studio system in the waning days of the pre-war Golden Age. Something terrible has happened in the last seven decades."

But if you're reading this, I expect you're older than twelve (at least I hope you are, since I've said "fucking" in this review - twice now), and wondering, "what is there for me?" Nothing more than in the first two films, and presumably any adult who goes to HSM3 is taking their kids, and already saw the first two, so they know what they're getting into. If you're pervy, there's still the dubious pleasure of the not-entirely-gorgeous young cast - and for the first time, they were all legal when the film was shot, so you're not even an ephebephile this time!

The soundtrack is still made up of that awful overproduced pop music that nobody in the whole world can sing "well" - if Maria Callas herself came back from the dead to record "Right Here, Right Now", she'd probably sound almost exactly like Vanessa Hudgens - and Kenny Ortega returns to direct and provide his capable choreography, which suffers from being essentially identical every single time (see also: HSM & HSM2, Newsies, and Xanadu), though at least this time around he gets to use bigger ensembles and so there's a bit more scale to the bigger numbers. At one point, he also inserts an obvious reference to Fosse's Chicago choreography (it's even called out in the screenplay), raising the question: if someone's old enough to recognise a Fosse move, are they not then old enough to watch better films than High School Musical 3?

But why complain? Kids are only kids for a little bit, and if you have kids or are friendly with a kid who wants to see HSM3, why not indulge them - says the man who neither has nor likes children. It's just two hours, they're happy, and when you get home and they're asleep, you can Google naked photos of Vanessa Hudgens. Not that I'm endorsing such deviant behavior, and if I did such a thing myself, it was strictly in my professional capacity as a film blogger.