Hippo Manchester
August 4, 2005


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Sky High (PG)
By Amy Diaz

Nerds and artsy types must save the school from popular people gone amuck in Sky High.

Early on, Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), a smart decent kid, poses the question: if life were suddenly going to start being fair, what are the chances that would happen in high school? He says this his first day on the cartoon-looking campus of Sky High School filled with primary-color-wearing, superpower-having kids. Though his situation puts him at about age 14, Stronghold’s kid-trying-not-to-be-clobbered demeanor would be familiar to anyone who watches Timmy Turner fend off bullies on Fairly OddParents. Which is to say that kids under 12 will like it, as will the grown-ups they’re with. It’s the kids who are actually in high school now who probably won’t be lining up to meet The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston).

This dashing superhero couple lives a mild-mannered life as real estate salesmen when they aren’t pulling on the tights and heading off to fight evil. But their most pressing concerns have to do with neither a real estate bubble nor giant evil robots but their teenage son Will. Ready to enter high school, Will is enrolled at Sky High, a school for superheroes and the children of superheroes. The kids with the most showy powers — strength, flexibility, freezing — are labeled heroes and rule the school’s academics and social scene. The students with odder powers, like the girl who can turn herself into a guinea pig, end up as sidekicks, or rather, superhero support. Will’s parents Steve and Josie Stronghold are certain their boy will grow up with powers as great as their own. But in typical Hello, God, It’s Me, Margaret-style, our hero Will has not yet blossomed into maturity. Afraid to tell his parents that he has no powers, Will actually finds a comfortable group of friends in the other sidekicks until a fight with the son of one of his dad’s nemeses brings out the true Stronghold in him. Once it appears that Will might have some of the Commander in him after all, he is forced to choose between his friends in the sidekicks and the members of the hero class, including the very attractive Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who seems to become very interested in Will very fast.

Add, on top of the social pressures of this souped-up high school environment, the appearance of a villain who seems hellbent on destroying the teenage superheroes and a few of their famous parents.

From the covers of 1980s pop (Caleigh Peters does “Just What I Needed,” Vitamin C does “Voices Carry”) to the inclusion of supporting actors such as Linda Carter (as the principal) and Bruce Campbell (as a slightly cruel gym coach), Sky High  seems to consciously be playing to the adults just as much as it does the younger kids. More, even, as concepts such as the social Darwinism of high school are almost incomprehensible to those who haven’t been to high school yet.

For those who have and spent more time with the four-eyes than the athletes, cheerleaders and class presidents, Will and his friends seem like improved versions of the people you wish you and your friends had been. Geeky, sure, but these kids (an environmentalist who can make plants grow instantly, a math nerd who can turn himself into a puddle, a purple-haired girl who can become a guinea pig) are proud of their abilities and proud of Will when he finally tells his dad that he’s a sidekick and might always be one. It’s scenes like this, scenes where the basic issues of teendom are explored through the superhero metaphor, that give a movie a sharper edge, one you aren’t expecting when you come in and are pleasantly surprised to find.

A fun enough movie for kids, Sky High  is surprisingly smart, sharp and satisfying for adults.