What would you do if your parents were the greatest superheroes there ever were, and you were at the tail end of puberty and hadn't developed your own superpowers? That's the dilemma facing Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), who has just entered his first year of Sky High, aka "High School for the Abnormally Gifted." Quickly flunking out of the Hero-level classes and relegated to lowly Sidekick status (the equivalent of being a mime at clown college), Will hides his "disability" from his overeager dad (Kurt Russell) and well-meaning mom (Kelly Preston). Meanwhile, the hottest girl at Sky High, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) suddenly takes a liking to Will -- though she may have other motives -- rendering him oblivious to the yearnings of his life-long best friend, Layla Williams (Danielle Panabaker). But when evil threatens his family, friends and Sky High itself, can Will rise to the challenge and finally unleash the Superhero within?
A surprise box office bust, 'Sky High' suffered from a no-win concept. Adults probably thought it was a stupid kids movie, while teens (at least according to a recent query of my nieces and nephews) dismissed it as just another big-screen version of "one of those lame Disney Channel movies." 'Sky High' also had the misfortune to open not long after 'The Incredibles,' and indeed, it almost seems like a live-action remake of that Pixar blockbuster. But despite these strikes against it, 'Sky High' emerges as a very clever little adventure, and one of the few truly original comic book movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time.
What I found winning about 'Sky High' is how puts a new spin on every cliche of comic book and teen flicks. Everyone has been through puberty, and everyone knows how awful a time it can be. Now imagine that embarrassment magnified by about a hundred when, instead of zits, you get some lame superpower? There is also that growing fear that takes root in high school, after you realize that your future is entirely in your hands -- should you attempt the path of a superhero, or embrace your inner sidekick? Add to that overbearing parents, peer pressure, the big school dance and -- oh, yeah -- picking the right superhero name and costume, and who wouldn't feel like some mutant geek?
'Sky High' also seems to have a lot of fun affectionately spoofing the comic book genre. The effects are intentionally cheesy, giving the movie a 'Mars Attacks'-like, chintzy charm. And the kids' various superpowers are a hoot -- I especially loved Magenta (Kelly Vitz), who can turn into a guinea pig, and Zach (Nicholas Braun) whose sole ability is to glow like a pubescent nite-lite. Even the film's production design and fight sequences look drafted right out of a comic book, all garish colors and skewed dutch angles. Add to that smart, knowing performances by Angarano, Winstead and especially Russell (whose tongue-in-cheek parenting skills are even more inspired when you remember he grew up as a Disney child actor), spiffy direction by Mike Mitchell (here far outshining his work on such dreck as 'Deuce Bigalow' and 'Surviving Christmas') and loads of smart dialogue by screenwriters Paul Hernandez and Robert Schooley, and you have my vote for this year's biggest sleeper.
Buena Vista has produced a nice 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer for 'Sky High.' This is a movie practically tailor-made for high-def: shiny, colorful and full of spotless computer-generated special effects. The source material is pristine, with deep blacks and pretty poppy contrast. I did find the transfer a bit dark at times, especially in the shadows as fall-off into black was a bit steep for my taste. But most brighter scenes excel, with very nice detail and depth. Colors are richly saturated, especially primaries, yet all remain clean. Aside from a slight bit of intentional film grain, the image is also smooth and free of chroma noise. My only really major complaint is a bit of softness -- some shots are particularly flat in the backgrounds, and the effects shots similarly suffer. All in all, a solid four out of five for video.
'Sky High' sounds as good as it looks. Disney offers up an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (48kHz/16-bit) that really highlights the film's nifty sound design. For what is essentially a comic book satire, 'Sky High' sounds better than some actual comic book movies I've heard.
What's so much fun is how alive the surrounds are. More than just the usual discrete sounds (of which there are plenty), whole sections of background dialogue are often directed to the rears. Even the only annoying part of the soundtrack to me -- the "Oh no they didn't!" teen-pop covers of classic '80s tunes -- have a nice sense of presence across the entire 360-degree soundfield. Channel pans are quite aggressive, and transparency is near-seamless. Dynamics are also quite solid, with nice deep bass and very clear dialogue reproduction. If the track is lacking in any way, it is in the non-action scenes. They do fall a bit flat as the film suddenly loses its surround presence. Still, 'Sky High' is all about the superhero stuff, so on that level it impresses.
'Sky High' hit standard-def DVD with a pretty slim batch of extras, and alas, same goes for this Blu-ray release. Given how poorly the film did at the box office I guess I'm not surprised, but this is a true underrated gem that deserved better treatment.
Only three video-based supplements are included, all presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video and pillarboxed at a 4:3 aspect ratio. "Welcome to 'Sky High'" (15 minutes) is your basic making-of, though it's a bit better than most thanks to lots of behind-the-scenes material and a young cast that seems to be having a great time. Strangely, Kurt Russell is not interviewed, but everyone else is. The fun continues with "The Stunts of 'Sky High'" (7 minutes) which dissects all the cool wire work in the film. Again, this looks like such a gas that I wished I could have been in the movie myself.
A three-minute "Alternate Opening" is also included, but it reveals far too many plot points. The film's current animated prologue is more appropriately comic-book, and far superior.
The only standard-def extras excised from the Blu-ray release are a set of bloopers, a music video, and trailers. For completeness, it would have been nice had they been included, but admittedly this is not a major omission.