I was sooo prepared to loathe High School Musical 3: Senior Year, the third installment in Disney’s self-explicatory, teen-heartthrob-thronged singing, dancing, candy-colored and vomitus-looking fantasia franchise.

And, certainly, there is much to dislike.

Full of classic Disnifications such as fake sentiments, fake skin and fake laughs as well as looksist hierarchy, calculated token racial characters stripped of any cultural authenticity (and a token overweight girl among hundreds of factory-stamped Barbie bodies), almost-kiss scenes that attempt to paint a neuter gloss over the constant insistence on miniskirt-clad young girls who always find reason to kick their legs into the air—HSM 3 is plastic recycled garbage in all the typical ways. That it’s aimed at children (“It’s just for kids”) makes it worse, not better.

Well, that’s what I thought before I realized that HSM 3—if I understand things right—is Disney’s first movie about gay teenagers struggling with their super-obvious gayness while trying to live double lives as Disney-perfect straight kids. It’s a major breakthrough for a company that has never addressed homosexuality in its youth programming.

HSM 3 is set in “Albuquerque High” (demographics: 1 percent Hispanic) and revolves around Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), star player of the Wildcats, a basketball team in what appears to be a special league set up to give waifish, delicate, exceptionally short white men a chance to play at their own level. Troy, though, is also in drama class and secretly loves to put on tight little getups—each outfit its own fetish costume, such as “gangster” or “frat boy”—and perform musical numbers. He hasn’t had “the talk” with his dad yet. He’s so afraid to let him down.

Troy maintains a sham boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with his best friend, Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), going so far as to pretend to kiss her before getting ickied out. But he is torn between his desire to go away to the privacy of college with his “best friend” Chad (Corbin Bleu), with whom, when alone, he does groin-thrusting contact-dance routines (Parents: worry not, the sex that Troy and Chad obviously have is never shown) or his study of show tunes. A young gay choreographer boy who pretends to like girls reiterates the theme. He wears gaudy outfits and Troy strips down in the locker room to round things out as HSM 3 comes to its sweaty, frothy, feel-good conclusion.

What’s so cool about HSM 3 is that it works simultaneously as a children’s movie, a strong gay-rights-message piece and a homoerotic musical full of wonderful fashion moments. Disney, it’s been a long time coming. Equality for all can’t be far behind.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Written by Peter Barsocchini
With Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel and Corbin Bleu

Regal Stadium 14
112 min., G