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Sky High

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // November 29, 2005
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted November 27, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

What with all the Incredibles and Fantastic Fours and various masked heroes swinging through the multiplexes these days, you'd probably be forgiven for overlooking a cute little also-ran like Disney's Sky High. The marketing campaign wasn't exactly scintillating, and the project as a whole sort of screams "retread!" But that's what makes being a movie geek so much fun: Sometimes you're just SURE a movie will suck six ways to Wednesday, but then you're proven dead wrong by being treated to a solid little winner like Sky High.

Perhaps best described as The Incredibles meets Harry Potter by way of Mean Girls, Sky High is not a movie even remotely concerned with forging new ground or winning first prize in an originality contest. It's a movie comprised almost entirely of pieces from a variety of other genres: it's got slick action bits like a high-end superhero adventure; it's got a sweet-natured "teens learn valuable lessons" structure that should be resoundingly familiar to just about any moviegoer; and it's a broad little farce that pokes some fun at the numerous comic-booky conventions, and it does so with a smirk on its chin and an obvious affection for its predecessors and inspirations.

Will Stronghold (the rather excellent Michael Angarano) is the son of The Commander and Josie Jetstream, reigning champions of the superhero world. The young man is just about to spend his first day at Sky High, which is a floating mega-school that specializes in teaching super-youngsters how to best hone their skills and prepare for a life full of evil-thwarting. One of the first things required from the incoming freshman: They must display their specific power(s) and earn a designation of "hero" or "sidekick." But poor Will hasn't even discovered his powers just yet.

Fortunately our young hero has a variety of sidekicky pals who harbor all sorts of wacky talents: lovely Ms. Layla has the power to control vegetation of all kinds, Magenta can shape-shift (but only into the form of a guinea pig), and Zach? Well, Zach can glow yellow when he has to. (Zach's obviously destined for a lifetime of "sidekick" status.) But when the ultra-cool "hero" kids discover who Will's parents are, he's all of a sudden transported into the realm of pubescent popularity.

And you can pretty much tell where the surface-plot of Sky High is headed: Will inadvertently alienates all of his sidekick (see: nerd) pals by hanging out with all the hero kids (see: jocks), and eventually learns that labels are bad, that true friends are invaluable, and that sometimes the really pretty girls are actually kind of nasty on the inside. Again, on the surface, there's nothing new here.

But where Sky High succeeds (and at times succeeds wildly) is the way in which the screenwriters approach such familiar conventions and twist them onto their ear ... with just a little help from the superhero world. We've all seen high school movies about nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, and proms, but Sky High sprinkles some much-needed freshness into the mix by infusing the stock characters and familiar ideas with a healthy dose of vibrant color, sweet-natured wit, and even a few injections of bizarre and subversive humor ... if only for the parents who might be in the audience.

The young actors are strong across the board, but the hidden treasure lies within the grown-up goofballs. Kurt Russell and his swaggering chin are clearly having a big fat ball as the good-natured yet perpetually obtuse Superdad; Dave Foley contributes a great supporting turn as a sidekick teacher; Kevin McDonald is drop-dead hilarious as a massive-brained science instructor; and the ever-classic Bruce Campbell drops by to steal a few scenes as a no-nonsense coach with a sonic-booming voice-box.

Sky High is equal parts slapstick, spoof, and straight-arrow family comedy all rolled into one. The frequent sight gags and action bits will have the younger kids giggling and applauding, while the 'high school politics' material will strike a chord with the 'tweenie crowd. And those lucky parents who just narrowly avoided sitting through Herbie: Fully Loaded will be pleasantly surprised to find themselves chuckling out loud at material that the kiddies most likely won't even acknowledge.

I really did expect this flick to be a piffling little chore, and a time-waster in just about every conceivable way. Shows what I know. Sky High is an absolute treat from start to finish, against all calculable odds, and I expect it will become a kooky little cult favorite of all the comic book geeks out there. They might be too embarrassed to admit it, but I'm sure as hell not: I had a ball with Sky High, and I suspect that lots of stunned moviewatchers are going to walk away from the flick feeling the exact same way.

The DVD

Video: It's a brand-new Disney title, so you can obviously expect a wonderfully sterling video transfer. Sky High is presented in a wonderfully vibrant widescreen (anamorphic, 2.35:1) format, and the movie looks just dazzling on my screen. The aggressively playful color palette all but leaps onto your eyeballs.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 in your choice of English, Spanish, or French. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish. Audio quality is also superlative, with dialogue, sound FX, and swooping score sharing time quite amicably.

Extras

First up is an alternate opening (3:20) that was, in my opinion, wisely remanded to the cutting room floor. It would have started the flick out on too outlandish a note, plus it divulges some plot points that are better off discovered later on.

Also included is a 4-minute collection of silliness called Super-Bloopers, a music video for Bowling for Soup's cover of "I Melt With You," and a pair of featurettes:

Welcome to Sky High (15:15) is your standard "catch-all" compilation of cast & crew interview pieces and lots of on-set silliness. Better than a fawning EPK promo, but not all that informative.

Breaking Down Walls: The Stunts of Sky High (7:00) is a much more illuminating (and too-short) piece on the extensive "wire work" and practical effects that went into making the spectacle of Sky High so surprisingly effective.

Rounding out the extras is a collection of trailers for Lady and the Tramp, Glory Road, The Greatest Game Ever Played, Once Upon a Mattress, Toy Story 2, Kim Possible, Raven's House Party, and The Proud Family Movie.

Final Thoughts

Fun, funny, and very sweet, Sky High will appeal to eight-year-olds as much as it will thirty-eight-year olds. It's got real laughs, tons of eye candy, some truly playful performances, and even a few freaky fistfuls of high-end action mayhem. If your kids roll their eyes at most DVDs you bring home for Family Movie Night, give this one a spin and see what your mini-critics have to say then.


(Portions reprinted from my theatrical-release review of Sky High.)
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