Sky High Review
By Nicholas Schager
The high school melodrama gets feebly super-charged in Sky High, a tween-oriented Disney adventure made from the spare parts of Harry Potter, Spy Kids, X-Men and '80s teen romances like Some Kind of Wonderful. Without an original bone in its mutant body, Mike Mitchell's decidedly mortal misfire - too childish and metaphorically shallow to appeal to serious comic book fans, and too prosaic to strike a chord with those weaned on Pixar's far more exhilarating The Incredibles - is a misguided movie in search of a suitable identity. While cheery, colorful, and buoyant as Superman on a nighttime flight around Metropolis, this humdrum escapade nonetheless lacks any sign of an extraordinary imagination. An example of bland mix-and-match derivativeness, the film's espousals of egalitarianism not only promote the values of tolerance and cross-cultural harmony, but also wind up functioning as a preemptive validation for its own mild, middle-of-the-pack mundaneness.
Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the son of the world's greatest heroes, super-strong Captain Stronghold (Kurt Russell) and high-flying Josie Jetstream (Kelly Preston). However, despite his impressive lineage, Will's lack of astonishing abilities poses complications on his first day at Sky High, a Hogwarts-esque floating academy for exceptionally gifted teens. Because of his embarrassing ordinariness, Will is shuttled into the "Sidekick" academic track (euphemistically referred to as "Hero Support") with his hippie best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) and other lamely powered misfits. Sidekicks are unpopular geeks and Heroes are the cool kids at this fantastic high school, which also features a cheerleading squad made up of clones, a mixed-lineage (hero and villain) rebel as Will's brooding arch-nemesis, and bullies acting as evil henchmen for a mysterious fiend who's plotting revenge against the Stronghold clan. This passing interest in metaphorical subtext proves tantalizing during Will's admission to his dad that he's a sidekick (a moment that recalls X-Men 2's "coming out" scene), as well as with the repeated adult refrain that Will is just a "late bloomer" (thus linking his nascent strengths with puberty). Yet content to only skim the surface of its symbolic potential, the film doggedly opts for obviousness when subtlety is called for, ultimately turning its story into simply the latest misfit-makes-good-and-proves-that-dorks-are-people-too adolescent fairy tale.
Mitchell's (Surviving Christmas) idea of direction involves dousing everything in Skittles-ish rainbow colors and incessantly tilting his camera for cock-eyed close-ups, a visual design borrowed from Saturday morning cartoons that perfectly mirrors the plot's fundamental immaturity. If it weren't for his generally amusing cast - square-jawed Russell turns Captain Stronghold into a permissive dad more apt to pal around with his son than punish him, Dave Foley gives over-the-hill former sidekick Mr. Boy a pathetic goofiness, and Bruce Campbell is charmingly thunderous as Coach Boomer - this aggravatingly bright, plasticine aesthetic would completely overpower any smidgen of humor or drama. When it's not indulging in '80s nostalgia via perfunctory covers of songs by Modern English and 'Til Tuesday, Sky High piles on allusions to Spider-Man, Wonder Woman (thanks to Lynda Carter's appearance as the school's principal), and the old Batman TV show. Yet Mitchell's pedestrian film uses imitation as both a means and an end. Failing to even come up with unique superpowers for its cast of fantastic plastic men, giant rock things, quicksilver speed demons, and fiery human torches, the proceedings ultimately fail to become anything more than a dull, kid-friendly regurgitation of readily available (and superior) iconographic comics.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 29th July 2005
Box Office Worldwide: $86.4M
Distributed by: Buena Vista
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 93 Rotten: 34
Cast & Crew
Starring: Michael Angarano as Will Stronghold, Kurt Russell as Steve Stronghold / The Commander, Kelly Preston as Josie Stronghold / Jetstream, Danielle Panabaker as Layla Williams, Kevin Heffernan as Ron Wilson, Bus Driver, Dee Jay Daniels as Ethan, Kelly Vitz as Magenta, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen Grayson / Royal Pain, Lynda Carter as Principal Powers, Bruce Campbell as Coach Boomer, Steven Strait as Warren Peace, Cloris Leachman as Nurse Spex, Jim Rash as Mr. Grayson / Stitches, Dave Foley as Mr. Boy, Kevin McDonald as Mr. Medulla, Tom Kenny as Mr. Timmerman, Patrick Warburton as Royal Pain (voice)