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Why 'Sky High' Was the Aughts Most Overlooked Movie

The film proved that in a world of giant robots, super villains and toxic waste, high school is still the most terrifying thing.

Walt Disney Studio’s 2005 family comedy “Sky High” remains a timeless depiction of high school, even if the students do have superpowers. The film is simple and fun, combining action, comedy and heart, while also revealing a deeper narrative about growing up.

The film takes place in a world where superheroes are widely known and accepted as a valued part of society. Will Stronghold, son of the two most powerful superheroes, is ready to embark on the most terrifying mission of his life: high school. There’s just one problem…he hasn’t inherited his mother’s flying abilities or his father’s super strength. The film follows Will and his friends as they discover their powers, improve their strengths and accept their limitations.

“Sky High” is a lost 2000s treasure, sporting a talented cast, creative cinematographic style and lurid subplot. The film features exceptional talent, from up and coming fresh faces to legendary actors with an established presence in television and film.

While he plays an awkward, pre-pubescent boy, Michael Angarano is a dreamy, teenage heartthrob. He may not have Ryan Gosling’s baby-oiled abdominals, but what he lacks in physicality he makes up for in good nature. He does a wonderful job making Stronghold into the sweet, caring boy- next- door. Since the film, he’s had great success in smaller, independent acting projects and managed to score interesting side roles in popular television shows. In 2007, he was featured in four episodes of “24,” where he played civilian teenager Scott Wallace. He currently appears as Eddie Ziedel in Showtime’s original TV series “I’m Dying Up Here,” a dramedy set in 1970s Los Angeles.

Michael Angarano in “Sky High” (Image via TOP250)

Danielle Panabaker is not a typical Disney actress. While most child stars hit their peak with made-for-T.V. movies, Panabaker established herself as a prominent entity in the entertainment industry. In 2006, she played Julie Stark in the short-lived crime series “Shark.” The show lasted two years and two seasons, but allowed Panabaker to shine and show her wide range of acting abilities. She currently plays Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost in DC Entertainment’s T.V series “The Flash.”

Kurt Russell deserves major props for capturing the essence of The Commander, a vapid, image-obsessed superhero. He combines sitcom-Dad-awkwardness with Superman macho-ness through misplaced jokes and a huge sense of entitlement. The film has an interesting dynamic between the adults and teenagers; the adults are written as crazy, cartoonish nut jobs, while their children seem calm and collected. Regardless, Russell is an absolute treasure onscreen. Every time I see him in another film, I think, “What’s The Commander doing there?”

The cinematography of the film mirrors a comic book, with bright colors, close-up framed shots and text that pops off the screen. Additionally, the costume design pays close attention to detail, with each character’s costume exemplifying their powers and giving them a signature, superhero look. Layla’s green, earthy tones and flower details symbolize her plant powers, while Warren Peace’s flame tattoos and leather jackets hint to his pyrokinesis and bad-boy aesthetic.

Will’s sidekick group of friends provide a strong ensemble while flying on their individual storylines. Each character is given their time in the spotlight, but little is revealed about their backstories. Nicholas Braun plays Zach, the sidekick who famously coined the superpower of glowing. Yes, he glows neon-yellow, and that’s his entire power. Zach had the potential to be stagnant and two-dimensional, but Braun brought a hilarious, fresh take to the character.

Warren Peace, the hotheaded bad boy, is one of the most well written characters of the film. He desperately wishes to avenge his father, who was defeated and imprisoned by The Commander, but also seeks to live down his reputation as a notorious super villain. Peace is mysterious and ruthless with a hidden sensitive side. When Will stands Layla up at The Paper Lantern, Peace lends her an ear and helps her talk through her feelings. Plus, he works as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant, proving that any minimum wage job can be sexy…if you’re Warren Peace.

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The film exudes an authentic vibe as it captures the frantic, judgmental reality of high school. The friendships, rivalries and romances are convincing, from every un-eased moment of sexual tension to corny Dad joke. The dialogue features classic, cheesy moments typical of any early 2000s Disney flick, but incorporates very true, real emotion. The dichotomy of heroes, sidekicks and villains is a realistic representation of high school social groups; the popular kids, cheerleaders, chess club, band geeks, bookworms and more. In addition, the characters experience common high school dilemmas like bullies, puppy love, rebellion and let’s not forget, detention.

With consistent comic book references and cheesy one-liners, the tone of the film is funny and goofy without tripping over its own feet. The humor is excellently balanced between childish and clever. However, the plot isn’t solely reliant on jokes. The premise is thick enough to stand on its own, allowing the writers to sprinkle jokes throughout to simply add to the hilarity.

The writers even take a little, witty stab at Lynda Carter at the end of the film. During the scene when the villains are put in the detention room, Principal Powers leaves muttering, “What a waste. I can’t do anything more to help you. I’m not Wonder Woman, you know.”

The film’s musical score includes covers of iconic 1980s hits, setting the mood of teenage angst without forgetting the superhero aspect. “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” by Christian Burns and “Can’t Stop the World” by Ginger Sling are two strong hits onf the album. While the musical score is not a defining element of the film, it transports audiences out of their seats and into the halls of high school once again.

While the film was received well by audiences and critics, it was a massive box office flop, grossing a measly $63 million domestically and $86 million worldwide, according to IMDb. In comparison, “Fantastic Four” premiered the same year and crushed the box office, grossing over $56 million on opening weekend alone.

Each character was written with enough backstory to provide great ammunition for a sequel or TV series, but further projects were never pursued. In a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, director Mike Mitchell mentioned a sequel was in the works, but no screenplay has been officially confirmed.

Nowadays, superhero movies are bigger and more expensive than ever. We’ve got sicker explosions, intricate backstories and a crap ton of product placement. “Sky High” evolved into a cult classic on merit, not production value, and still managed to include all the kick-ass awesomeness audiences expect of the genre.

Writer Profile

Tatianna Salisbury

Northern Illinois University

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