August 9, 2005 > Sky High
Directed by: Mike Mitchell
by Jeremy Inman
Imagine a high school, where instead of jocks and nerds, there are heroes and sidekicks; a place where gym class includes car-throwing, death traps and battle armor; a place where there aren't just bullies, there are full-fledged, flame-wielding arch nemesis's waiting to steal your lunch money. This is Sky High, where the world's best and brightest young super heroes-to-be are sent to learn how to harness and control their abilities in seclusion from the rest of the world, and a place where puberty takes second seat to the development of the students' very own super powers.
It's refreshing to see Disney take advantage of Hollywood's current infatuation with super hero and comic book franchises by weaving a unique and original super tale of their own. Granted, at its core, Sky High is little more than a conventional high school coming of age movie, complete with the trials and tribulations of a loveable but confused main character struggling to find his place while simultaneously trying to live up to the standards set by his father. Mix in the super hero twist, though, and suddenly Disney's got something far beyond conventional.
Sky High tells the story of young Will Stronghold, son of Sky High alumni Steve and Josie Stronghold, also known as The Commander and Jetstream, the two greatest living super heroes in the world. The problem? It's the first day of school and Will hasn't developed his powers yet. Everyone's expecting great things from the son of the greatest crime fighting duo in the world, and the pressure to deliver is a little more than Will can handle. So, when it comes time for "power placement," (an event on the first day of school where students are classified as either heroes or sidekicks, thus determining their curriculum for the rest of their high school career) Will finds himself and everyone else severely disappointed when he announces that he has no powers. He is relegated to sidekick - or "hero support" - status along with his friends, whose powers aren't exactly impressive; his friend Zach can glow, Ethan can melt into a puddle, Magenta can shapeshift into a guinea pig, and Layla can control nature.
The movie struggles to find its footing at first, but really picks up about 20 minutes into the film. The action sparkles with a stylized comic flare, but it's the humor that carries this film. Many classic comic book traditions are woven into this story. There's the mad science lab and a school nurse with X-ray vision. The super-tailored classes are especially humorous, like English for Sidekicks, with examples like "Holy ____, ____ Man!" on the chalkboard or a homework problem that reads, "if you're super hero is flying north at 300 mph and the villain is burrowing south a 200 mph, assuming your hero has x-ray vision, how long will it take him to realize he's going the wrong way?" There are some highly enjoyable cameos as well, including fan favorite Bruce Campbell as gym teacher Coach Boomer (or Sonic Boom - he can yell really loud) and Dave Foley as an aging sidekick, All American Boy, now just called Mr. Boy.
While it's primarily geared toward children, this film is something that almost everybody can enjoy. Even hardcore comic fans (such as myself) can delight in some of the references they fit into the film, like the numerous super powers (most of which pay homage to classic comics) or the name of Will's main crush, Gwen Grayson (an amalgamation of the name Gwen Stacy, one of Spider-Man's original loves, and Batman's sidekick Dick Grayson, also known as Robin the Boy Wonder). They even got Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) to play the school principal.
Comic book fans will also laugh at the film's tendency to poke fun at many of the standard conventions of classic comic book mythos. Sure, some of the costumes look like they're out of the Power Rangers (especially Kurt Russell's Commander outfit), and there are some super cheesy moments, but those go hand in hand with a PG rated Disney film. They certainly don't detract from what's ultimately behind this film, great humor and a message of acceptance that children and adults can appreciate. Toss in the extra super hero flare and some pretty solid action sequences, and you've got a flick that really shines.