Sky High


Michael Angarano as Will Stronghold
Kurt Russell as Steve Stronghold/The Commander
Kelly Preston as Josie Stronghold/Jestream
Danielle Panabaker as Layla
Steven Strait as Warren Peace
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen Grayson
Kevin Heffernan as Ron Wilson – Bus Driver
Dave Foley as Mr. Boy
Kevin McDonald as Mr. Medulla
Nicholas Braun as Zach
Dee Jay Daniels as Ethan
Kelly Vitz as Magenta
Jake Sandvig as Lash
Will Harris as Speed
Malika/Khadijah as Penny
Bruce Campbell as Coach Boomer/Sonic Boom
Lynda Carter as Principal Powers
Cloris Leachman as Nurse Spex
Jim Rash as Mr. Grayson

Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the son of the two greatest superheroes in the world – The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston) – and is expected to join them one day as one of the world’s great superheroes, after he has finished training at Sky High, the high school for superheroes. There’s only one problem – he has no super powers.

On it’s face, Sky High seems like just another slightly-lame, extra-light Disney comedy about teens dealing with adolescence and discovering their place in the world, this time as a super hero analogy (kids at Sky High are, as a matter of policy, separated into future heroes ‘the cool kids’ and future sidekicks ‘the-not-cool kids’), but it is actually far better than that. It is very broad and not particularly original, but don’t let that deter you – it does what it does very well.

Sky High works as well as it does largely because of its spot on casting. Michael Angarano (Almost Famous) does earnest and sincere characters very well, and brings a likeability to Will no matter what he’s doing, be it admitting to his father he has no super powers, or belatedly realizing he’s blown off his best friend, or confronting his arch nemesis. He makes even the broadest and most clichéd of characterizations seem fresh and real.

The other kids are in the same boat – forced into pretty stock roles (the bullies, the preppy kids, the goth kid, the loner, the wanna-be hip-hop kid, etc.) that they make the most of. Layla (Danielle Panabaker) as Will’s hippy plant-controlling best friend and Warren Peace (Steven Strait), Will’s sullen fire-controlling archenemy, are the standouts.

Kurt Russell as Will’s dad and the greatest superhero in the world, plays Steve Stronghold as an aging Superman/high school football champ who wants his son to follow in his footsteps, but doesn’t quite understand there are other paths to achievement besides the one he took. If there is one downside to the film, it’s that the father/son story tends to crowd out mom Kelly Preston. She’s barely in the film.

Director Mike Mitchell (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo; Surviving Christmas) shows a far lighter touch than ever before, allowing the much-covered-by-other-people ground to happen in a natural way, and slipping in a fair number of laughs in the form of super powered sight gags (The Commander keeps a drawer full of phones in his kitchen because he often destroys them when dialing quickly) and very dry asides from the supporting cast. Mitchell is a great fan of the 60’s Batman with Adam West, and that aesthetic defines Sky High. It takes itself and it’s genre with a wink and a nod.

The real jewel of the film, however, are the supporting characters. Mitchell has wisely filled his make believe school with gifted comedic actors – Broken Lizard’s Kevin Heffernan, former Kids in the Hall Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, and Bruce Campbell – who are able to take little moments and make them both funny and revealing. McDonald’s super-smart Mr. Medulla, in particular, is so perfectly dry – almost everything he says is funny – and Bruce Campbell’s Coach Boomer takes sadistic glee in forcing people into their social strata.

Sky High is the latest Disney teen comedy about the pitfalls of adolescent life, but is much, much better than it seems like it should be in large part due to its strong cast and assured direction. It is, by far, the finest piece of family entertainment so far this year.

Sky High is rated PG for action violence and some mild language.