I've got love for any film that'll showcase Spandau Ballet, and SKY HIGH is pretty generous in showcasing one of my childhood anthems, "True." Besides, SKY HIGH is worth many repeat viewings. As I recall, this offering from Walt Disney Pictures demonstrated strong legs at the box office. And why not? It is hugely entertaining. For Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), peer pressure is a mother and he's not at all looking forward to this year's first day of school. Will Stronghold is the third generation child of a family of superheroes. His parents are Steve (Kurt Russell) and Josie (Kelly Preston), successful real estate brokers... who also happen to be the world's greatest caped crusaders, the invincible Commander and Jetstream, mistress of super-sonic flight and unarmed combat. Will is enrolled in Sky High, a hi-tech learning establishment ideal for molding tomorrow's super-powered crime fighters. Sky HIgh is his parents' alma mater. So expectations are off the charts.
Will isn't about to tell his parents that he doesn't have any superpowers, that he's either a late bloomer or maybe even a never-was.
Sky High is "kept aloft by the latest in anti-gravitional propulsion," meaning that this unusual academy is accessed by a rocket-propelled school bus. The students all have some sort of special ability but, other than that, Sky High is like any other school. There are cliques and social politics and acne and teen angst and awkwardness. Will Stronghold's first day is pretty sad, especially when the "power placement" session - which determines whether you're a "hero" or a "sidekick" - swings around and Will arrives at the moment he'd been dreading, exhibiting his lack of powers. A dumbfounded Coach Boomer (Bruce Campbell, more abrasive than the Sorting Hat) promptly labels him a sidekick and designates him to Hero Support, a course taught by the now middle-aged All-American Boy, who used to be the Commander's sidekick. Mr. Boy is terrifically played by Dave Foley.
Michael Angarano doesn't at all look like a teenaged pin-up model, and this lends an immediate appeal and a realness to his role. You like him even when he pulls those bonehead slip-ups. In Hero Support, Will ends up hanging out with a shabby bunch of sidekicks so dubiously powered even the Legion of Substitute Heroes bully them for lunch money. There's a guy who glows (a hilarious Nicholas Braun). Another guy who melts into a puddle. A girl who shapeshifts into a guinea pig. The only one with serious powers is Will's best friend, Layla, who can manipulate plant life. Except that Layla, deeming the hero-sidekick system to be unfair, refused to demonstrate her talent. Ergo, sidekick.
What's school without an unattainable crush? Will quickly falls for Sky High's most popular girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). He also gets the stink eye from another freshman, the incendiary Warren Peace (Steven Strait), son of a hero and a super-villain (except that this super-villain parent used to be one of the Commander's foes).
There are clever bits and, thankfully, not too many contrived bits. I love the scenes in the Hero Support class. The big bad's true nature caught me by surprise. Tonally, SKY HIGH tilts towards the lighthearted. Even the superhero action sequences are laden with humor, although that doesn't take away from the spectacle of the fighty fights. Thru character development and a solid script, the story allows you to get to know these lovable underdogs. Another strength of the film is that the cast - consisting of teens and established actors - performs seamlessly as a whole. The school faculty is peppered with iconic figures. Cloris Leachman cameos as the X-ray powered school nurse. And, most awesomely, Lynda Carter plays Sky High's Principal Powers. And she is still gorgeous. Meanwhile, Kurt Russell, with this movie (his 11th big screen Disney release), takes over Dean Jones' longstanding spot as Disney's most featured live-action male lead. It makes you realize that Kurt Russell grew up in front of our eyes. I just watched THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES a few weeks ago, and I can't help but think that, forty years ago, Kurt Russell would've been playing the Will Stronghold role, instead of the beaming dad. Correction, "beaming" dad until the Commander learns that his son's a sidekick. Who hears Spandau Ballet music. Still, it's another element to relish in this film, the father-son relationship between the Commander and Will Stronghold.
The DVD's extras:
- Alternate Opening - a flashback sequence set in 1985 featuring Jetstream, the Commander, and All-American Boy battling Royal Pain & Stitches (00:03:20 minutes)
- Super Bloopers (00:04:19 minutes long)
- "Breaking Down the Walls: The Stunts of SKY HIGH" (00:07:00)
- "Welcome to SKY HIGH" - A featurette which takes you behind the scenes with the cast & crew (00:15:18)
- Bowling for Soup's Music Video "I Melt With You"