Sky High will take a lot of knocks for being too much like a live action Incredibles or a souped-up rip-off of Spy Kids, but those comparisons are actually a good thing. There's nothing particularly derogatory about calling kiddie movie fare derivative, especially not in this season of Bad News Bears and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Being able to pull off an interesting, inventive movie within a familiar genre and well-worn story frame is the key thing, and Mike Mitchell's take on high school bullying and the pressure of parental expectations in a superhero setting more than stands up to the challenge.
As incoming freshman Will Stronghold, Michael Angarano is an appealing and easygoing teen who will immediately charm young kids and their parents alike. Unlike most teenybopper heroes, he's not a Brad Pitt wanna-be, nor is he utterly precocious. He's not even that recognizable. Although he has been acting since he was six, most of the big roles he's had have been the younger version of an older actor, like playing the young Tobey Maguire in Seabiscuit or the young Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous. In his first starring role, he manages to come across as simply normal. Normal hair, normal size, normal speech patterns.
Too bad for Angarano's character, however, that in the universe of this film, these features make Will anything but ordinary. He's saddled with parents who are the most amazing superheroes on the planet: Real estate agents by day, they save the world at night as the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jet Stream (Kelly Preston). Will is slated to go to their alma mater, Sky High, which teaches youngsters with special powers the basics of their craft, breaking them down into two camps '- heroes and sidekicks.
The school might be for kids who can turn themselves into fireballs or extend their arms for yards, but it's really just like every other school. Except, of course, for having Wonder Woman for a principal '- in the form of Lynda Carter. The big mean kids make fun of the bus driver on the way to school and then pick on the smaller kids throughout the day, until they get back on the bus at night and get on the driver's case again. Even though everyone has great expectations for him, Will hasn't attained any superpowers yet. So he's not there for five minutes before he's labeled a sidekick and immediately set up for ridicule.
This is where Mitchell's jaunty approach to high school begins to have heart. Will never gets down about his status. He worries about disappointing his doting parents, who are so enthusiastic and high on themselves that they risk damaging the movie, but he never falls prey to any damaging self-doubt. That keeps the proceedings light and fun and gives Will a strong backbone where he lacks super muscular strength. When Will does get his super strength, he doesn't leave his sidekick friends behind. From the start, he is a hero inside, and Mitchell is able to get that message across without being cheesy about it.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you cheer for the little guy
Stars: Kurt Russell, Michael Angarano, Kelly Preston
Director: Mike Mitchell
Screenwriters: Paul Hernandez, Robert Schooley, Mark McCorkle
Producer: Andrew Gunn
Release date: July 29, 2005 limited, later nationwide