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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Heroes and Sidekicks
by Betty Jo Tucker

Teenagers attending a high school designed to train super heroes face familiar adolescent problems in Sky High, a live-action comedy from Walt Disney Pictures. Even in a specialized place like Sky High, an in-group, out-group atmosphere prevails. Pupils with exceptional powers are classified as Heroes, the rest as Sidekicks -- or “hero support.” These two groups take separate classes and sit in separate tables during lunch. Does this bring back painful memories of your own high school days? Sorry.

But pity young Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano). He’s the son of The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), the two greatest superheroes of them all -- just ask them -- yet he’s been placed in “hero support” classes. Imagine his parents’ dismay when they find out Will doesn’t have any remarkable powers and is hangin’ with the sidekicks. And what is he learning at school? Things like the following Hero Support Safety Practices:

1. Report all unsafe conditions to your super hero immediately.

2. Use only approved super hero costumes and utility belts.

3. Remember you are responsible for the safety of your super hero as he saves the world!

Fortunately, Will’s powers soon become apparent, and he’s transferred to the Hero learning track. However, he’s become good friends with the sidekicks, so he uses his powers to defend them -- and later to save his parents from the villainous Royal Pain, an old adversary of The Commander.

 Sky High is a family friendly movie with enough funny scenes and colorful characters to hold the interest of adults and youngsters alike. “So many super hero films are very dark and take themselves so seriously,” says producer Andrew Gunn. “We wanted Sky High to be a comedy full of big, bright color and lots of tongue-in-cheek humor.”    

Kurt Russell (Miracle) understands the importance of a “tongue-in-cheek” approach to his role as The Commander -- and plays it as broad as possible with hilarious results. Preston (What a Girl Wants) also has fun hamming it up a bit as Jetstream, but she’s a tad more serious here than Russell. And, as Sky High faculty members, Cloris Leachman, Bruce Campbell, Lynda Carter, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald have their over-the-top moments to shine -- as does Kevin Heffernan, who plays an overly conscientious bus driver.       

All the teenage actors play their parts well here. Although Angarano (Lords of Dogtown) is weak in scenes involving the bloom of romance, he’s an appealing young performer and earns our empathy as a lad struggling to find his place in an unusual world. Danielle Panabaker (Surviving Christmas) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Ring Two) show considerable acting promise as Will’s best friend and new girl friend, respectively. But the real find in this movie is Steven Strait, who portrays a high school rebel with the power to shoot fire from his hands. He simply oozes big screen charisma as the dark and mysterious “Warren Peace.” Be sure to watch for him in the upcoming Undiscovered.

Sky High cleverly mixes elements of The Breakfast Club and X-Men. Although offering fast-paced action and impressive special effects, it clearly focuses on teenage friendship and loyalty. It also sends a message that what makes a hero is what’s in his heart, not what’s on the outside. Now who can find fault with that?   

(Released by Walt Disney Pictures and rated “PG” for action violence and some mild language.)

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