For a 25 year old, Ashley Tisdale makes a convincing recent high school graduate. Then again, she's had a lot of practice.
While still a teen, she was a guest star on such shows as "7th Heaven," "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Charmed," "Malcolm in the Middle," and "Still Standing," before landing the role of Sharpay Evans in the first "High School Musical" (2006). After that hugely successful Disney Channel movie, she appeared on "Hannah Montana" and "That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana," then parlayed that into a regular appearance as Maddie on "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody." But she was also the voice of the teenage big-sister Candace in "Phineas and Ferb," and of course she reprised her role as Sharpay in "High School Musical 2" (2007) and "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" (2008).
It's Sharpay, mostly, that she's been identified with, and her character--a spoiled-rotten daughter of the country-club set--sang a song in "HSM" to explain her need to have all things "Fabulous." That's where this film, Tisdale's first star-vehicle, gets its title.
"Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure" is a cute movie that's sure to please the target audience--'tweens and teens who plan their schedules around Disney Channel offerings. And older siblings or parents who've been coaxed to watch will find it not awful. I know that's a backhanded compliment, but it's a little more predictably formulaic than the "HSM" films, and Tisdale has to share the spotlight with a dog and a snarky junior high-age kid (Bradley Steven Perry) and his dog in a competition that feels more like a Disney Channel series than a made-for-Disney movie.
Coincidence, not character, drives the plot. A Broadway producer just happens to be in the audience at a benefit in Arizona at which Sharpay and her dog, Boi, are performing, and his invitation to audition for a show headlined by Amber Lee Adams (Cameron Goodman) is misunderstood to have been extended to Sharpay . . . when it's really Boi they want. When Sharpay arrives at the condo she booked with Daddy's money and ends up on the sidewalk with all her luggage because they won't allow dogs, it's her mother's friend's son (Austin Butler, as Peyton) who just happens along and starts filming her as the subject of his "New York Story" film-school assignment. It's a pretty big coincidence that you can see rolling down the pike from as far away as New Jersey that shapes the ending as well. That doesn't make it a bad film, but it does make "Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure" fantasy- rather than reality-based. For the intended audience, that's just fine, because that's all they have at this stage in their own lives: fantasies about their future successes, same as Sharpay. So ironically, one of the film's weaknesses is also a strength.
Like any star vehicle, it all turns on Tisdale, and she does a fabulous job of transitioning Sharpay from the slightly evil, manipulative, and self-centered diva we saw in the "HSM" films to a kinder, gentler version who insists that Peyton lug all her luggage because she's been brought up with the idea that rich people don't do anything for themselves. And when she sees the inside of his walk-up apartment building and screams as a first reaction, it's precious because it feels like the old Sharpay hasn't been totally transformed into the kind of likable person Hollywood feels a lead actress must be. I'd bet you 10 to one, though, that the doggie competition was built into the script just to give fans that comforting dose of mean-girl scheming that made her so fun to watch in the "HSM" films. When, coincidentally (there's that word again), only two people show up for auditions and it's young Roger (Perry) and his King Charles Spaniel "Countess," who has a resume longer than Sharpay's list of spa demand, it sets up a reductive little competition. Curiously, though, it seems as if the filmmakers had troubles trying to decide whether this was Boi's story or Sharpay's, and landed somewhere in the middle. There's not quite enough focus on the dogs to make them the stars, and you get the feeling the doggie "cute" factor could have been higher. But by the same token, Sharpay sometimes gets pushed off the stage by the pooches.
"Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure" doesn't have the same lightning-in-a-bottle that "High School Musical" had, and it feels more like the typical Disney Channel movie because of all the conventions that were followed. Director Michael Lembeck ("Tooth Fairy") also could have played a number of scenes more energetically, and the script from Robert Horn ("The Suite Life Movie," "Designing Women" TV series) conveniently forgets that when we last left Sharpay's brother, Ryan, he was off to study at Julliard, so the mother racking her brain to come up with a New York contact for her daughter seemed jarring. Same with early scenes that show Sharpay with two sidekick friends, when she didn't really have any in the "HSM" movies. But of course these are things a critic or parent who's watched all of the Disney films will notice . . . not the nine-year-old girl who's enthralled with the song-and-dance numbers, the rhinestones, the Sharpay wardrobe, the cute little doggies, and pink, pink, pink, as far as the eyes can see. This same target audience is going to think Peyton is cute and cheer, as if they were at a sporting event, for Sharpay to get together with him.
So for the Disney Channel audience, Disney has done it again.
"Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure" comes to Blu-ray via an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer and it looks very good in HD. The pinks are vivid, and detail is such that you can see individual hairs on the blonde wig that Tisdale wore throughout the film. There's some grain on a few of the backgrounds and in the early big production number that you notice because, by-and-large, there isn't much film grain elsewhere. But that's pretty minor. I saw no compression artifacts, and viewers ought to be pleased with the overall look of the film, which is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen.
Disney went with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and it does a good job of handling the musical scenes. But there's something weird about the tracking early in the film where the voice levels are ramped down so much that you think there's something wrong with the sound and have to turn it up. Later in the film as well the musical performances and segues are so loud that some in your family will reach for the volume control, and then you'll have to fidget with it again when someone else can't hear the dialogue that comes in afterwards. That said, the tonal quality is good. Additional audio options are in Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Considering how much stuff the Disney PR department has been putting out--like the Tisdale interview that we posted--it's a little surprising that there aren't more bonus features. All that's here are a Blu-ray exclusive on "The Evolution of Sharpay," which has Tisdale talking about transitioning the character from "HSM" to "Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure," a blooper reel, and "Austin Cam," which takes the premise of the film and runs with it, giving fans backstage Disney shots of Tisdale on the set between takes.
Though "Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure" doesn't have the same verve or originality of the "HSM" movies, it's still solid-pink entertainment that should delight the target audience of mostly pre-teen and early teenage girls (and boys who like Tisdale but would never, in a million years, admit it).