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Alex Stroup, editor

Sky High

A movie with superheroes but not about them

Friday, July 29, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor

Rarely do any of us make it out of childhood without at least one or two deep secrets—Something about ourself that we doubt we'll ever share with any other person in the world, no matter how dear they are. I'm about to share one of mine; something so embarrassing I thought until this moment it would die with me:

When it came out, I loved Can't Buy Me Love.

There, I wrote it, and I can only hope that nobody I know reads it.

Can't Buy Me Love is not really a good movie. It is just one of the endless teen romantic comedies in which the nerd (Patrick Dempsey, in this case), finds himself in the elite social circle, dating the most popular girl in the school (Amanda Peterson), turns into a jerk, and finally remembers who his true friends are.

© Buena Vista Distribution.

I don't like any of the dozens of other times this movie has been made, but I loved Can't Buy Me Love. Why? Because it came out in 1987 and I was 13 years old. Movies like these are not meant to appeal to adults; in fact, they can't appeal to adults because they are about a social organization that quickly becomes foreign to us. Nowhere other than in high school are so many different people forced to interact on a daily basis. As adults, the pressures this creates are no more than fading memories and we can't help but try to apply adult solutions to the problems of young adults.

To a certain degree, these movies can't even appeal to high school kids; partly because they introspection is difficult, but also because these movies are never true representations and they ring false to the people living through them.

These films can only truly connect with the junior high crowd. Those sixth, seventh, and eight graders looking forward with both fear and expectation to that great unknown called high school. Their bodies are going to change, their friends are going to change, some of them will become jocks, some of them will become nerds. All they want to know is what it all means, and that nothing is permanent.

I've spent half of my review talking about Can't Buy Me Love because Sky High is this kind of movie. It isn't a comic book movie. It isn't a superhero movie. There is no angst here about how superpowers can be a superpain in the keester.

Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the rare son of two superheroes (most, you see have just one superhero parent), and to increase the expectations they are the top two superheroes in the world: The Commander and Jetstream (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston). The movie starts with Will and his friends heading to their first day of school at Sky High, where they'll all learn to be either superheroes or sidekicks (“superhero support”). This is just an institutional endorsement of the jocks-versus-nerds split found in these movies. Each of Will's friends ends up in the sidekick track (since they have lame superpowers like glowing, or shapeshifting into a guinea pig), and since he has not yet shown signs of any powers at all, so does he.

© Buena Vista Distribution.

There's your setup. If you've seen Can't Buy Me Love or whatever your particular version was, there will be no surprises from this point on. Go back and reread those first six paragraphs, because they provide the context for what I'm about to say. Here it is: This movie doesn't really do much for me. And so what? This movie can't do anything for me because I barely remember the fears that made me so open to this kind of movie back in 1987.

I see in it, though, the simplicity that Can't Buy Me Love had. I don't know if Sky High will connect with the tweener crowd, but I see no reason it shouldn't. Despite the obvious story, the performances are uncomplicated and endearing, and is a good candidate for a family trip to the theater. It should play reasonably well to all kids in the 6-to-14 bracket, though if your kid is in the target age group they're probably going to want to sit with a friend in a different row.

There is no reason for adults to go on their own, but if they do, there is plenty of casting that will be amusing to us, even if lost on the 10-year-olds. Lynda Carter plays Principal Powers, Bruce Campbell is the stereotypical gym teacher Coach Boomer, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald reunite from Kids in the Hall, and even Cloris Leachman gets 30 seconds to continue her recent streak of crazy old ladies.

Just remember, if in 20 years your child confesses to how much he loved Sky High, the polite thing to do is pretend you didn't hear.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


Sky High is a Walt Disney Pictures release.


Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.


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