It's a sequel to two of the most successful cable movies of all time — a one-off that became a franchise that became a veritable license to print money for Disney and stars like Zac Efron, Ashley Tisdale and Vanessa Hudgens. So now that "High School Musical" is making its first trip to the big screen with the series' third installment, the talent behind the toe-tapping tale must be feeling the pressure to succeed big time, right?
"We're not," star Monique Coleman casually told reporters during a recent press conference the day before filming began on "High School Musical 3: Senior Year." "We're making another movie. I know, personally, I'm not going in there tempted to do it better, but just to do it justice."
"It's hard to look at it as a pressure, because we've been looking forward to this for so long," Efron echoed. "We're not looking to top anything."
The stated desire to just keep on trucking is an unfamiliar refrain for any follow-up, let alone one that's spawned so much. But, then, what's made "HSM" a success in the first place has always been its utter lack of pretense, insisted Hudgens, who said the story for the next installment will follow a similarly accessible theme.
"The characters you see are a little over-the-top and stuff, [but] they're people that go to high school," she said of the continuing adventures of Sharpay, Troy and Gabriella. "Like, you have the brainiac who is in charge of the clubs and everything, you have the new girl who comes to school, and you have the jock. [But] they're all real characters that you know and see in high school."
But whereas the first two films dealt with adolescent love and angst, Efron confessed that this film deals with love and angst of a different kind — an adult kind.
"This is the final year at East High for the Wildcats, so we're kind of deciding for ourselves what we should do with our futures," he said of the thrust for part three. "For my character, basketball is a huge priority, but then there's also his new love of theater. [There are] a lot more decisions to make."
Decisions like where to go to college, what to study, even what becomes of your friends once you leave. It's a series of moments that have about them an air of finality, as the characters stand on the threshold of a new life elsewhere.
"I know our characters are growing and we're growing as people and we're making tougher decisions, and you definitely see relationships blossom," Hudgens added. "[But for now,] this is the last chapter for the Wildcats."
That means handing off the baton to a younger crowd of actors, like Matt Prokop and Justin Martin, who will no doubt feature prominently in any future installments. For these guys, getting cast in "HSM" is no different than making a varsity team, asserted director Kenny Ortega.
"Our cast was very generous in welcoming them. Zac called Matt the minute that he heard he got the job, and Ashley has been incredible in embracing these kids into the fold," he said. "They have all been wonderful in welcoming them and making them feel a part of the experience."
"I think it's nerve-racking for anyone coming to a cast that's already been established for the past three years," Corbin Bleu added. "I mean, we're all friends, we all know each other very, very well, but I think that they stepped up and came ready to work, and I think that we've accepted them as much as we've accepted each other."
Check out everything we've got on "High School Musical 3: Senior Year."
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