Considering the huge success of the High School Musical movies, I’m sure Disney could have half-arsed their direct-to-DVD spin-off, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure (2011), and still have made a decent return on their investment… but, as it turns out, it’s actually a fairly inventive and amusing effort (I can’t say I ever LOL’d, but I did chuckle quietly to myself several times). I’m not sure how appealing it would be to anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the lead character, but considering how many people have already seen at least one instalment in the HSM trilogy, that’s not really a major issue.
For those who don’t know, this musical tween comedy stars Ashley Tisdale as ‘Sharpay Evans’, a spoiled stage brat who dreams of stardom. After performing an impressive song-and-dance number with her lapdog, ‘Boi’, for a benefit concert hosted at her father’s country club, she’s approached by a casting agent from New York, who offers her an audition for a new musical he’s working on. She’s thrilled, of course, and merrily rides a baby-pink wave of narcissism all the way to the Big Apple… but then, in a twist straight out of the Sunset Boulevard playbook, she rocks up to the theatre to discover that it’s actually Boi they wanted for the show, not her! Which doesn’t really make any sense, since the agent didn’t even mention the dog when he was praising her after the concert, and clearly implied (at least by omission) that it was her that he was addressing the offer to… but that’s not the only fly in Sharpay’s Chardonnay: Despite the fact that she devoted a full montage sequence to researching and planning the trip with the aid of her posse, she still managed to completely overlook the fact that the fancy apartment she’s supposed to be staying in has a strict “no pets allowed” policy! She’s quickly rescued from destitution and despair by ‘Peyton’ (Austin Butler), an age-appropriate friend of the family, who finds her (far less glamorous) accommodation in his own apartment building, while convincing her to support Boi’s blossoming Broadway career, even if it means setting her own ambitions aside for a while. Unfortunately, her pampered pooch faces stiff competition from a more experienced four-legged thesp named ‘Countess’, and Sharpay is drawn into a game of one-upmanship (and sabotage) with her rival owner/trainer, ‘Roger Elliston III’ (Bradley Steven Perry). It seems as if our heroine’s victory is assured when she befriends the show’s leading actress, ‘Amber Lee Adams’ (Cameron Goodman), but can the grandstanding star be trusted when it comes to following through on the quid pro quo? SPOILER: No. No, she can’t.
I’ve only seen the first two HSM movies, so I’ve no idea if her character changes in the final chapter, but as far as I can remember Sharpay was more of a sneering antagonist than a sympathetic character you’d want to spend any time alone with… so she seems like a rather odd choice for a solo vehicle. That said, Tisdale makes for an engaging lead, and gives a very energetic and engaging performance, even if she never quite manages to make the character’s blind arrogance and superficiality seem especially endearing. Oddly, her perfunctory romance with Peyton seems to take a back-seat to Boi’s love-at-first-sniff for Countess, as if the filmmakers were suggesting that human couplings simply can’t hope to match the depth and intensity of doggy love. Ahem. I thought Goodman brought a fresh spark of life to the rather tired cliché of the two-faced diva… and I really enjoyed the bit where her character is rehearsing a scene from the show, but keeps stopping when people laugh because she didn’t realise the play was a comedy and needs the jokes explained to her. Oy! It probably helps that the show’s director is played by Alec Mapa (last seen as bitchy fashion reporter ‘Suzuki St. Pierre’ in Ugly Betty), and he has a great double-act going with Jack Plotnick, who plays the show’s over-eager writer.
Fun fact: As he didn’t appear in any of the earlier hometown scenes, I’d naturally assumed that Sharpay had killed her twin brother ‘Ryan’, and eaten his brain to gain his knowledge… but he does make a cameo at the end, in a little scene set in her NY apartment that plays out over the end credits. Apparently this only appears in the TV version though, and wasn’t included on the DVD release. Shrug.