Produced by Walt Disney Pictures, this high school superhero romp trails behind The Incredibles (2004), but proves clever and fun in its own right. Will Stronghold (Michael Angrano) is fretting about his first day at Sky High, the school for superheroes that hovers thousands of miles above the Earth. Already burdened by the expectations of his famous parents, Jetstream (Kelly Preston) and The Commander (Kurt Russell, returning to the Disney fold), a.k.a. real-estate agents Josie and Steve Stronghold, poor Will is horrified his powers haven’t manifested yet.
Despite a warm welcome from Principal Powers (Wonder Woman’s Lynda Carter - still hot), Sky High isn’t an easy ride for Will and his best friend, plant-controlling hippie chick Layla (Disney regular Danielle Panabaker). All super-kids are separated into heroes and sidekicks. Will’s lack of powers consigns him to “Hero Support”, alongside Layla, Zach (Nicholas Braun) who glows in the dark, Ethan (Dee Jay Daniels) who melts into a puddle of goo, and grumpy Magenta (Kelly Vitz) who can shape-shift… into a guinea pig.
Though his dad is mortified, big-hearted Will sticks by his friends. Especially since their less than awesome powers make them easy targets for super-speedster or stretchable bullies, including broody Warren Peace (Steven Strait), who bears a grudge because The Commander put his supervillain father in prison. Will’s hopeless crush on senior student Gwen Grayson (lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead, from Death Proof (2007) and Make It Happen (2008)) comes to fruition when his powers finally kick in, but alienate him from his friends, especially Layla who has secretly loved him since childhood. Worse, mysterious, masked supervillain Royal Pain (voiced by The Tick’s Patrick Warburton) is out for revenge against Will’s parents and has a devious plan that involves their unwitting son.
Sky High ticks the wish-fulfilment boxes much like Harry Potter. Who wouldn’t want to ride a rocket-powered bus to school and hang around with superheroes all day instead of boring, average teachers? In addition to Carter and Russell (no stranger to superpowers thanks to his Dexter Riley days), the nifty in-joke casting stretches to Bruce Campbell as Coach Boomer, whose sonic boom is worse than his bite, Cloris Leachman as the school nurse with handy x-ray vision, Dave Foley as forgotten sidekick-turned- “Hero Support” tutor Mr. Boy (struggling with an unrequited crush on Jetstream), and Kevin MacDonald as big-brained boffin Mr. Modula who teaches mad science.
Filmed in vibrant comic book colours, this has its share of eye-catching special effects, but pleasingly relies foremost on a witty script. Amidst gags both visual and verbal, this attacks a school system that like so many others, divides kids into winners and losers, arguing that even the meekest kid with the silliest power has value. And that includes failed superhero-turned bus driver Ron Wilson (Kevin Heffernan). Though the hectic pace leaves a few points floundering by the wayside, this bolsters its argument with sweet-natured Layla. Powerful enough to be superhero, she chooses her own path and warms others along the way. Interestingly, the grownups are far from perfect, with The Commander especially, struggling with his own prejudices. He can’t even remember the sidekick who once saved his life. Russell’s comic skills make the most of a touching moment when he’s so proud his son has super-strength, he fails to punish Will for brawling and gives him an X-Box instead!
Eagle-eyed viewers will guess the identity of the mystery villain early on, but it’s still a neat little twist and provokes a hilarious reaction from Will. Warm-hearted and re-watchable, with a teen romance perfectly pitched towards its core audience, this is more likeable than Mystery Men (2000) or Zoom, a similar high school superhero romp released the same year, and could become a kids’ favourite.