I first came across Sky High a few months ago on Sky Movies. I watched the first ten minutes and dismissed it as a live action The Incredibles wanna-be. I was thus rather reluctant when the UK Blu-ray disc landed on my doormat for review. However, within about 20 minutes this good natured Disney movie had thoroughly grabbed me and kept me enthralled until the end.
At the start of the film, young Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is facing a dilemma. He is about to start at his new school Sky High - a school for super heroes. His Dad is The Commander (Kurt Russell) and his Mother is Jetstream (Kelly Preston) - the most successful superhero pairing in the history of the world. But Will has a problem. He has no super hero powers whatsoever.
Arriving at Sky High, his parent's reputation precedes him and great things are expected of him. In the first days grading, however, his lack of powers is shown up and he is put in the equivalent of the school “B” stream. He is made a side-kick.
Entering class with his side-kick mates, he is bullied in the cafeteria by Warren Peace (Steven Strait). It is at this point that his true powers start to reveal themselves - and he leaves his new found friends behind as he is moved up into the super hero stream.
What follows is a typical school story merged with a typical super hero story, as an ultimate villain with a grudge materialises with nefarious plans to destroy the school. Will our hero be able to reconcile his role within his peer group? Will he get the girl? Will he be able to come to terms with his super powers? Oh, and will he be able to save the world?
Sky High is a quite unique film. It may sound like it has some similarities with The Incredibles (2004), and to be fair it probably does draw some inspiration from that film. However, Sky High is much more than a mediocre movie hung on a high concept idea. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, the film manages to cover some weighty ideas in amongst the slapstick and effects - but it never does this in a heavy handed, preachy way. There are obvious metaphors here. The hero may not have a bad case of adolescent acne, but he is the only one in the school without super powers. Living up to their parents expectations is difficult enough when you are 15, but when their one wish for you is that “You get to feel what it is like to save the world. Even if it is just once” it puts even more pressure on you.
Secondly, the performances are entirely spot on. The teen cast are uniformly likeable, and there isn't a wooden performance amongst them. The adult cast are also excellent. Kurt Russell is fantastic, hamming it up as The Commander - and Kelly Preston gives able support as his wife. The various adult cast playing the roles of teachers are also superb. The great Bruce Campbell plays the PE teacher Coach Boomer, and Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman herself) plays the Principle.
What is also clever is the way the powers are thought out for the children. With so many super hero powers on view it must be hard to be original yet the film makers manage to here. The super heroes themselves have fairly obvious powers (super strength, the ability to fly, the ability to shoot flames) but the sidekicks also have powers. One, for example, glows like a torch whilst another can change into a gerbil. Of course, these powers see them relegated to sidekicks - useless powers out in the real world. These side-kicks are destined to spend their whole school careers bullied and looked down upon. Until the real world descends onto the school - and without the side-kicks the super heroes are useless.
Yet, these weighty issues are well disguised and the film is never turned into a preachy, weighty, snooze festival. It just means that in the tradition of great children's movies, there is plenty here for the adults to get their teeth into as well.
Another spectacular thing about this film is the stunts. The stunts are brutal and bone cracking and seem incredibly realistic. It really does look like it is the actual actors flying through the air and smashing through walls. It is only when you watch the extras that you realise that this film actually pioneered a new system which actually allowed the actors to perform the vast majority of their own stunts. It really does enhance the film.
Sky High did not perform well at the box office - and to be honest it is hard to see why. Yes, it seems like a high concept idea and these often have no substance behind them. But this film has substance in spades. It may not be the kind of film that adults are going to sit down and watch on their own, but as a family film that will appeal to all generations at once this is in my opinion a runaway success. An undiscovered gem.
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