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Image: High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Disney
Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron in "High School Musical 3: Senior Year." Yes, this franchise is as fun as it looks.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/21/2008 3:47:05 PM ET 2008-10-21T19:47:05
COMMENTARY

Not long ago, I had one of those days where life gave me a whole bunch of lemons. I decided I had two options: I could stick my head in the oven or I could pop in the unopened DVD of “High School Musical” and see what all the fuss was about. I chose the latter. And boy, am I glad I did.

Oh my gosh, you guys, how awesome is “High School Musical”? Sure, some of those East High students look like they’re 35, but they still won me over with their wholesome exuberance, catchy production numbers, and “We’re all in this together” manifesto.

That same night, I rushed out and rented “HSM 2.” Within the course of a few hours and a pint and a half of Ben and Jerry’s Heath Bar Crunch, I had licked my blues and become a bona fide “High School Musical” junkie. It was truly exhilarating… and yet I never felt so alone in my entire life.

Are there other grownups out there like me? I wondered. To find out, I logged onto my Facebook page, clicked on status box and spoke my truth: Dennis is… an adult with no kids who can’t get enough of “High School Musical.” Are you like me?

I didn’t have to wait long for the responses to start pouring in. You can be an adult and love “High School Musical” just like Zac Efron’s Troy can be a jock and still love to sing and dance. If there’s one thing that “High School Musical” teaches us it’s that labels are for losers.

Shhh ... just call it ‘HSM’
“You don’t need to have shame,” asserted my best friend Tony, 38, who got hooked on HSM when he was working at a gym for kids back in 2006. “I’m sure part of you thinks, ‘Oh, I need to kind of keep this on the DL.’ No, you don’t, Dennis. You can celebrate it and other grownups will be like, ‘Oh hell, yeah.’ There is no shame required with ‘HSM.’”

“If it makes it a little more palatable at first to say it as ‘HSM,’ the initials, instead of pronouncing the whole title, then try that,” suggested Dan, my legal administrator friend from Brisbane, Australia, which is apparently a hotbed of adult ‘HSM’ fanaticism. “It kind of takes away the embarrassing factor.”

Melissa, a radio host from Atlanta, has no patience for such word mincing. She’s out and proud, even if her live-in girlfriend thinks it’s all a bit, well, high school.

“I did get her to watch ‘HSM 2’ with me,” reported Melissa who makes a point to download the songs from each movie into her iPod prior watching the films so she’s well prepped. “I think the fact that the special ‘High School Musical 2’ magazine was sitting on our coffee table for the week leading up to the premiere made her realize there was nothing she could do about it.”

So what’s the appeal? Nostalgia and wish fulfillment are a big part of the mix. “High School Musical” depicts the way we wished our high school experience could have been.

All about happily ever after
“HSM” is like “Grease” all over again, but without the backseat shenanigans and the pregnancy scare. “There’s a little bit of drama,” allowed Denise, 39, a voice-over artist who got hooked on “HSM” while babysitting a friend’s 9-year-old, “but you know there’s going to be a feel-good, happily-ever-after factor to it all.”

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‘High School Musical 3: Senior Year’And the kids of “HSM” are a welcome antidote to the rampant materialism on display in shows like “Gossip Girl” and “My Super Sweet 16.” “It’s nice to see a bunch of young kids on TV not acting like egomaniacs and fame whores,” remarked Tony. “There’s no bling. A couple of the kids have cell phones. That’s about as entitled as they get.”

Of course, off-screen there has been some drama. Those nude photos of Vanessa Hudgens that surfaced on the Internet, for instance. “I can’t tell you how bad it was in my community when Vanessa’s pictures came out,” recalled my old high school pal Diana, 43, a single mom from Mesa, Ariz., who has five daughters under 21. “We all had to explain it to our 7- and 8-year-old girls. I just said, ‘Sometimes girls do crazy things for boys.’”

But Diana and her fellow moms got through it with their fandom undaunted. “We crank up the songs on our radios and wave at the other car pools,” she admitted. “And I’ve already bought my shirt for ‘High School Musical 3.’”

Time for some shopping
Speaking of buying things, if I’m going to be a “High School Musical” devotee, I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of merch. Dan recommended I get the remix version of the soundtrack, and also suggested I check out the YouTube video that shows how “Bet On It” from “HSM 2” synchs up perfectly with Julie Andrews singing “The Sound of Music.”

Carlos loves his “HSM” toothbrush that plays “We’re All in This Together” while making sure that you brush for a full two minutes. “Shockingly,” he said, “I’m still not sick of that song.”

But my friend Ted takes the cake when it comes to showing his pride with products. “In my office, I have their giant milk ad,” he explained, “the ‘HSM’ poster, the giant bus ad for ‘HSM 2,’ my sing-along dolls of Troy and Gabriella that look nothing like Zac and Vanessa, my framed Zac Efron autographed East High T-shirt, my ‘HSM’ lunch box, mouse pad and my ‘HSM’ TV set that’s shaped like lockers. Did I just admit to all that?”

Yes, you did Ted. You rubbed it right in my face. The good news is I got to the prom just in time to celebrate the big screen release this week of “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” The question now is when do I go and whom do I go with? I don’t think I’m man enough to go it alone but I don’t want to wait for the DVD either.

What's next? Hannah Montana?
“You gotta go opening night and you can come with me,” insisted Denise, adding that if this goes well maybe we can catch “HSM on Ice” together over Christmas. “I was going to find a teenager to take or pretend that I’m chaperoning someone, but now I can take you. Like the song says, we’re all in this together.”

Yes, we are but it’s still new to me and to be honest, it’s all a bit scary. Am I on a slippery slope here? Could Hannah Montana be next? “No way,” Diana assured me. “I can’t stand Hannah Montana, man, and you wouldn’t like her either.” Whew, that’s a relief.

Now that I’m an official “HSM” devotee counting the minutes till opening night, Tony told me that I should keep my eyes peeled because he recently had a Zac Efron sighting right in my neighborhood.

“I was driving to the Koo Koo Roo chicken place in Toluca Lake,” he recalled wistfully, “and this kid on a skateboard went flying in front of my car in the crosswalk. The light had already changed and I went to gun it and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Zac Efron.’ His hair was blowing in the breeze, of course, and he was holding a smoothie cup from Robek’s juice and I almost ran him over. I almost killed the franchise.”

“That would have been horrible,” I lamented, my heart sinking at the very thought of it.

“Yeah,” he agreed, “but it would have left a beautiful dent in my car.”

Dennis Hensley is the author of Misadventures in the (213) and Screening Party and a co-host of the radio show Twist. Reach him at www.dennishensley.com.

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