4 / 5 stars
I know what you’re thinking. How could we possibly pick a live-action Disney film for the Quirky Queue? One that came and went in 2005 faster than Superman changes into his tights? What enjoyment could Sky High hold for anyone over the age of 16? Let’s start with the cast: Kurt Russell, Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald and Lynda Carter. Here we go. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
Will Stronghold is the son of famous superheroes The Commander (Russell, returning to his Disney roots) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston) and is starting his first day of high school. Of course, it’s not an ordinary school, but an upper level academy only for those unique few who just happen to possess superpowers. Will’s problem? He has yet to discover any of his own special abilities. And while he makes some friends, he also makes some enemies, courtesy of his parents’ past adventures. Can Will “power up” before it’s too late or is he destined to be just as ordinary as the rest of us?
Sky High runs much like a Harry Potter film, as Will must contend with being famous just because of his father and mother, trying to adjust to a world in which he doesn’t seem to fit. Like Potter, students are divided into two groups according to their powers: you’re either a hero or a sidekick. There’s even a Quidditch-like action sequence where students partake in a game called “save the citizen.”
And while Sky High does a good job at slyly parodying the teen comic book stereotypes we’ve all grown up with, the real stars of the film are the adults. Bruce Campbell is irrepressible as the PE coach who assesses each incoming students’ abilities. Some with useless or inane powers, such as the ability to transform into a puddle of water or the power of bio-luminescence, are destined for sidekick status. Those with more outstanding skills are on the hero track and lining up to be the most popular kids in school, on their way to a future of superhero adoration. Campbell’s bravado-filled portrayal of the typical gym teach is is certified to bring sidesplitting laughter to any adult.
Then there’s Kids in the Hall veterans Foley and McDonald as the sidekick teacher and mad science teacher, respectively. Foley is a former sidekick (All-American Boy!) who instructs students in the art of the quick-change and mastery of the utility belt. McDonald constantly frets at his kids’ stupidity as he tries to teach the delicate difference between rays and beams.
And, of course, there’s Russell, whose professionalism lends such amusement to the nice, strong-but-not-too-bright father that it’s difficult not to smile when he’s onscreen. Even smaller roles, like one from Super Troopers‘ Kevin Heffernan and a cameo by Cloris Leachman, keep enough jokes well above teenagers’ heads so parents don’t get bored. Throw in Carter (the original Wonder Woman) as the school principal, and you’ve got enough star power and quirkiness to delight viewers of any age.
Added bonuses include a cast of teens who are not only very capable, but avoid the annoying qualities that many Disney kids eventually exude in spades. And the film’s soundtrack is the ultimate generation bridge consisting entirely of covers of 80s pop hits. Give Sky High a watch for this back-to-school season. It may be the only Quirky Queue entry that appeals to the whole family.