These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Alternative Character Interpretation: Because of Ashley Tisdale's loveable Large Ham performance, Sharpay comes across as less of an arrogant bitch and more starstruck and neurotic. Her passion for theatre and her determination to be successful also suggests that Sharpay doesn't do the manipulative things she does out of malice - she just truly wants to be the best at everything (star in the musical, dating the most popular boy in school, etc.) She doesn't dislike the Wildcats in the second movie because of any reason other than "they'll steal my talent show!" Selfish, yes, but by the ending of each movie she's realized her mistakes.
In the sequel, Chad and a few other Wildcats come across as overly harsh sometimes when they're unhappy with Troy. See Broken Aesop.
Quite a few fans assume that Gabriella has trust and Commitment Issues about getting close to people. Despite the fact she and Troy adore each other, she's repeatedly thinks he's going to hurt or leave her, and pushes him away in every film because of it. note In #1 he does genuinely betray her so fair enough, but in #2 she leaves over something that was mostly Sharpay's fault and #3 Troy doesn't do anything at all. Then add in that she has a Disappeared Dad, was ostracized at her previous schools and apparently never had a permanent home (living somewhere longer than a year) and she borders on Broken Bird.
Gabriella: "I'm a lot better at saying goodbye than you. I've had a ton of practice."
Likewise, Troy seems less like an uber-popular Big Man on Campus and more of a Broken Ace worn down from years of being East High's golden boy. Every film has him breaking down over disappointing his Dad or friends, often while Chad and the wildcats sit there criticizing him. His delight at Gabriella liking the the "real him" makes you wonder when he'd last been allowed to just relax. One tumblr post argues him attending Berkeley was less about Gabriella and more about escaping everyone's expectations.
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: In the second movie Sharpay tries to get Troy to perform "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" with her, an extravagant Hawaiian themed number about a pineapple princess and a fish prince falling in love. Characteristic of Sharpay, this is a huge production number with backup dancers and Ryan narrating, providing sound effects/fog, and playing the ocean and fish. Much Narm is involved. It makes just as much sense in context and is never brought up again or acknowledged in the plot. No wonder it was cut from the Disney Channel airings.
Broken Aesop: Between #1 and #3 vs #2. The moral of the first film is essentially 'Support other's dreams rather than tearing them down' (The wildcats accepting Troy and Gabriella singing). The second film switches to 'Your friend's pressuring is more important than your dreams.' (Troy trying to win a scholarship). Then the third film jumps back onto the 'support each other' wagon. (Troy doing basketball and singing, Gabriella going to Stanford, Kelsi wanting to do the show together). If you're confused, fair enough.
Perhaps it's not to sacrifice your friends for the future or that the means don't justify the ends.
High School Musical 2. Some saw it as a step in the right direction but many people pick up on a lot of issues, in particular the Informed Wrongness of Troy's decisions (how dare you miss a baseball game to work for a scholarship!), the Family-Unfriendly Aesop of the wildcats' reactions (focusing on the future is bad), Sharpay taking a ridiculous level in jerkass, and most of all it's not even set in high school!
Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure. It's not a musical, and even factoring that and it's spin-off status in it has a completely different "feel" to the other movies. And those are the minor points - it forgets that Sharpay was supposed to go to the University of Albuquerque after graduation and that Ryan and Kelsi went to New York (they had to rush just to get Lucas Grabeel into the movie at all, so much that his scene is only in the broadcast version).
Designated Villain: Some people feel this way about Sharpay and Ryan, at least in the first movie. They have been doing all this musical extravaganza for most of their life and then in waltzes two people who have never actually sung seriously a day in their life and they easily got shooed in to get the parts. Although they can be pretty mean at times (especially Sharpay) you can at least understand why they would be pissed off.
However, they never had any real competition before so perhaps it's more that they weren't used to having to prove it.
Averted in the second film where Sharpay is a lot more mean-spirited, has no sympathetic justification for stealing Troy away from Gabriella, and treats the rest of the characters like dirt. The third film gives her more understandable motives again, as all she really wants is a decent chance of impressing Julliard, even if she goes overboard trying to get there.
Double Standard: Sharpay's pursuit of Troy in the second film comes across as sexual harassment and blackmail but she's Easily Forgiven by the end and her more extreme moves are Played for Laughs. Troy is clearly uncomfortable and nervous around her, but is still forced to shoulder most of the blame, even though she's actively stalking him and his job means he can't avoid her.
Ear Worm: Every Song. Especially in the first movie.
Epic Rocking: "Work This Out" in the stage version, and to a lesser extent, "Bet On It". Oddly, "Bet On It" is actually less Narmy onstage, partly to the fact that it becomes more of a Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number with more emotional weight and less interpretive dancing.
Fanon: Even among non-Ryan/Chad shippers, general fanon is that something went down in the locker room after the staff baseball game in HSM2.
Gabriella's Mom is nameless in the films, but is usually Isabella or Maria in fanfic.
The second film has several, the worst one being that hanging out with your high school friends is more important than your whole future. Troy is portrayed as the bad guy for missing a few ball games because he's trying to get a scholarship and earn money for college. He's redeemed when he throws away chances of impressing the College board so the other wildcats will be friends with him again.
Fan-Preferred Couple: While Troy and Gabriella keep most of the fandom support, a lot of the secondary couples get played with. In particular Chad/Sharpay and Chad/Ryan are often more popular than the canon Chad/Taylor.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: Miley Cyrus is among the dancers in the closing number of High School Musical 2. She gets a very brief closeup towards the end.
Also seen dancing at the HSM2 conclusion is ShaneHarper.
Harsher in Hindsight: Matt Prokip's scenes in HSM 3, considering the revelation of his abuse towards his girlfriend Sarah Hyland and the fact that they met while auditioning for HSM 3 become much more uncomfortable to watch.
Everything about the "I Don't Dance" sequence in HSM 2. The next time we see Chad and Ryan, they've switched clothes.
HSM3 has Troy practice a dance move, which he and Sharpay was supposed to perform together, with Ryan. When he was asked to actually do the move with Sharpay, he complains that Ryan was the better partner.
Gabriella is a gorgeous and brilliant new girl in school who immediately attracts the big man on campus and lands the leading role in a school play because of her stellar singing ability. To make things worse, while the first film at least portrays her as a Shrinking Violet with terrible stage fright who has no friends and no apparent hobbies outside of studying (until she tries singing), the second and third present her as super-popular and trained in various skills (life guarding, first aid, etc).
Troy falls into this too: Very attractive, great at almost every sport, so good at singing/theater he's put up for a scholarship at Julliard with zero training and the most popular guy in school. However both of them are somewhat saved by being a Broken Ace, not happy with the pressure on them and aware their popularity vanishes the moment they fail and let people down.
Surprisingly Improved Sequel: Between a better budget, more production time and the adorable chemistry Troy and Gabriella have developed through Zac and Vanessa's Romance on the Set, Senior Year is probably the best of the three films. Not to mention Troy and Gaby's relationship gets some depth, as per their confiding in each other about their fears for the future.
Each sequel got better in terms of budget and production, with the first one looking much less cinematic than the third.
Special Effect Failure: The second movie, during the song "Bet On It", has Troy looking into the water of a pond, showing his reflection. Ignoring the obvious CGI effect, the reflection itself was not mirrored.
Off-screen, but in the first movie a character says brother and sister Ryan and Sharpay played the title roles of Romeo and Juliet.
The fact that the theater director seem to have no issue with a brother and sister playing romantic interests.
Strangled by the Red String: In a badly-made excuse to stop the rumors that the character is gay, Ryan was paired up with Kelsi in the third movie. They are good together, if you ignore the fact Kelsi was paired with Jason in the first two movies.
'Right Here, Right Now' in HSM 3 as Troy and Gabriella consider their future apart from each other. The cut reprise version - set after they've said goodbye - is even worse.
The Problem with Licensed Games: Somehow averted. The games for it are pretty good, but only because of what gameplay they’re based on. The first two games on DS use the Elite Beat Agents/Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan gameplay, while the third DS game uses Gitaroo Man’s gameplay. The console High School Musical 3 Dance! game also uses DDR gameplay on dance pads (On Wii, it's Wii Remote and Nunchuk). While it's somewhat simplistic in terms of difficulty, it does serve as a decent rhythm game. Unfortunately, all the games use covers, which is ironic since Disney develops the games and made the movies.
Vanessa Anne Hudgens seemed to be contractually obligated to sing one overly emotional break-up ballad each movie.
Zac Efron became obligated to supply one token emo, narmysong per movie, famously including "Bet On It" consisting of Zac Efron interpretive-dancing angstily through the golf course in what's supposed to be a serious moment.
NO, NO, NO NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. STICK TO THE STUFF YOU KNOOOOOOOOW.
The Woobie: Gabriella's backstory: It's implied her father has passed away and her mom's constantly-moving job meant she never settled anywhere. Plus she struggles to make friends because of being labelled the 'freaky math girl' wherever she goes.
Troy in the third film. Everyone around him is pressuring him to do different things, he has no idea what to do with his life, and his girlfriend - who he admits was the one person who doesn't see him as the perfect basketball boy - is leaving.