Will Stronghold is just an average suburban teenager. That’s a problem. As the only child of the greatest superheroes in the world The Commander and Jetstream (aka Steve and Josie Stronghold, real estate agents), everyone expects Will to have incredible abilities of his own. But on the first day of his freshman year at their alma mater in the clouds, Sky High, Will still can’t lift a car like Dad or defy gravity like Mom.
His inadequacies become embarrassingly clear when the snide gym teacher Coach Boomer separates the heroes from the sidekicks. Turn into a giant rock monster? Hero. Turn into a guinea pig? Sidekick. Since Will’s got nothing, he joins the academic and social ranks of “hero support” along with his best friend, Layla (who refuses to reveal her plant-controlling powers as a protest against the whole unfair “hero/sidekick dichotomy”).
But just as Will and his disappointed dad begin to accept his place in the world, a cafeteria confrontation with a fireball-throwing bad boy reveals Will’s latent super strength. Suddenly, he finds himself propelled into the hero class, skyrocketing popularity and the arms of his crush, pretty senior “technopath” Gwen Grayson. But his new status threatens his old friendships. And a villainous plot at school will force him to join the family world-saving business much sooner than anyone thought.
Levity comes courtesy of Sky High’s familiar faculty. Dave Foley steals scenes as the slightly pathetic—graying and somewhat bitter—sidekick homeroom teacher Mr. Boy. Kevin McDonald’s Mr. Medulla dispenses one-liners from under his giant brain. Rounding things out are Cloris Leachman as a school nurse with helpful x-ray vision and Linda Carter (Wonder Woman!) as Principal Powers. Who wouldn’t want to go to this high school?
The PG-rated Sky High is aimed at tweens and majors on some super messages. For one, Will has two strong (really strong), committed parents who are married and genuinely like each other—unusual for kids in most Disney flicks. They’re not perfect. Dad’s expectations put lots of pressure on Will, and Will gives into some normal teen temptations including lying, disobedience and reluctantly hosting a party while the ’rents are away. But all his wrong choices have clear, negative consequences. And Mom and Dad are Will’s first stop when looking for support and guidance.
Other positive messages are more standard teen fare: We should respect everyone, including those who aren’t well liked by the crowd. We all have the potential to be heroes. Popularity isn’t worth sacrificing real friendship. We should be honest about our feelings. You’ve got to stay in good shape to look good in a latex costume.
Teen romance leads to a few kisses, with one reference to “making out.” In an aside, one adult character agrees to a date when he finds out its with a woman’s “evil twin.” A few heroines sport some cleavage.
The cartoonish action violence is sometimes loud and fiery and often sends bodies flying and crashing through walls, but no one really gets hurt. Bullies push around smaller kids, including handing out “swirlies” and stuffing them in lockers.
Most bad language is carefully avoided. God’s name is used in exclamation. Coach Boomer suggests a student’s power may be “butt kissery.” G-level utterances include “shoot” and “bite me.”
Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a young Kurt Russell starred in a series of movies that cemented Disney’s then-reputation for live action flicks that were safe, fun and a little cheesy. Films such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Barefoot Executive and The Strongest Man in the World delivered silly, outrageous adventures seemingly designed to be nothing more than two hours of quirky family escapism.
Disney’s squeaky-clean Sky High recaptures some of that spirit while mixing in the goofy superhero spoofery of the 1960s Batman TV series, decent special effects and the angsty teen comic drama of all those current Disney Channel sitcoms. The result is a generally kid-friendly, low stress, sometimes funny little adventure that’s easy to watch and easy to forget.
In a summer crowded with dark, brooding and complex celluloid superheroes, though, Sky High’s light tone, bright colors, chuckles and easy lessons may provide a welcome relief to families looking to satiate their youngsters’ hero-hunger.