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Originally published Friday, July 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Sky High": Pimples, hormones and superpowers

Disney could do a lot worse than restart a franchise of modest, live-action kids' movies akin to the fun Kurt Russell/Joe Flynn/Dean Jones...

Special to The Seattle Times

Disney could do a lot worse than restart a franchise of modest, live-action kids' movies akin to the fun Kurt Russell/Joe Flynn/Dean Jones screwballers the studio made a generation ago ("The Love Bug," "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," "Million Dollar Duck," etc.).

They're on the right track with "Sky High," a delightful bit of fluff that springboards off superhero mania (with big nods to Disney's own "The Incredibles") and feels appropriately cheesy in a high-tech movie-magic way.

Kurt Russell returns to the Disney fold, too, this time as the understanding Dad — an ordinary suburban superhero known as The Commander. Along with his wife, Jetstream (Kelly Preston), and their mild-mannered alter egos, Steve and Josie Stronghold, he's brimming with pride as his son sets off for freshman year at the alma mater of superheroes everywhere, Sky High.

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Sky High" with Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston. Directed by Mike Mitchell, from a script by Paul Hernandez, Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle. 102 minutes. Rated PG for action violence and some mild language. Several theaters.

But Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) has a problem; the onset of puberty hasn't done what it's supposed to for the children of supers. That means all of his regular teenage anxieties are super-sized when he shows up at the first day of school without any superpowers.

The well-worn travails of high-school-angst movies are upended at Sky High (which really is, as it floats above the clouds) where the cruel class system separating popular kids and dorks takes on heightened meaning. Not only is there cool and uncool, there's also a humiliating delineation between superheroes and sidekicks, lesser-powered kids whose abilities have dubious practical applications.

Will, of course, starts out as a sidekick stuck with nerdy friends who can only melt, glow, control plant life, or change into guinea pigs. But the punchy script maintains a joke rate that will satisfy nerds and jocks (and the parents of both) and keep the stereotypical school saga slightly off kilter. Will gets cool with more than his share of powers, battles evil, loves, loses and loves again. He learns a few lessons, too, and not just about living a life of superheroism.

The youngsters in the cast are uniformly charming, but it's the adult troupe that lifts "Sky High" into comical orbit. Faculty members include Kids in the Hall veteran Dave Foley (as Mr. Boy, a frustrated former sidekick) and Kevin McDonald (as big-brained science teacher Mr. Medulla), who become hilarious sidekicks to each other. Bruce Campbell plays his ham hand as the sonically supercharged Coach Boomer, and Lynda Carter makes a wondrous comeback as the woman in charge, Principal Powers.

With a crisp and snappy visual style and its smartly paced story, "Sky High" pulls an incredible feat in an age of dumbed-down kids comedies; it's as down-to-earth as it is super.

Ted Fry:

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