Remember the movie Sky High? That surprisingly funny and surprisingly heartfelt Disney flick from 2005 with Kurt Russell as a superhero? With Marvel seemingly running the film industry, Sky High has returned to the zeitgeist.
The film centered around Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), a high school freshman who was child of the worlds most famous superheroes, the Commander (Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). Will would be attending Sky High, a floating school for the children of superheroes. The school sorts students into two categories: heroes and sidekicks. At the start of the year, Will's powers have yet to manifest, but when he discovers he has his father's super strength, he has to decide what's more important: being popular or being true to his friends.
Rewatching the film now is alarmingly enjoyable, especially when our real world is as full of superheroes as Will's is. The film also features a stellar cast full of soon-to-be stars and hilarious cameos. It's filled with well-developed and likable characters. The story has a heartfelt message. There are enough Easter eggs and in-jokes that would make a Marvel or DC fan roll on the floor, and it's got the perfect setup for a TV series.
Not only is it well worth rewatching, it's worth re-examining in a society that's nowhere near tired of superheroes.
Here are 20 Crazy Facts About Sky High.
20 Kurt Russell’s suit had a cooling system
Superhero suits look cool on screen, but wearing them is another story. Plenty of MCU actors have complained about their suits being extremely uncomfortable. Tom Holland's Spider-Man suit in Spider-Man: Homecoming made it almost impossible for him to stay hydrated. Chadwick Boseman had to re-learn how to breathe in the Black Panther suit, and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow costume became a wetsuit after a long day of shooting. These suits can be tight, heavy, and hot, especially under that intense movie set lighting.
Luckily, Kurt Russell and his costume team had the heat issue covered. The Commander’s suit was equipped with a cooling vest under his chest plate.
Russell said the cooling vest functioned as more than just a device for his own personal comfort. Sweat on a superhero is a bad look. Sweat stains can mess up continuity from take to take, as well as the suit itself.
Russell pointed out another reason why the cooling system was necessary for the character: superheroes don’t sweat!
Part of the wonder of a superhuman is the idea that saving the world is like breathing to them. There’s something about a sweat-stained suit that might make the Commander look a lot less cool.
19 It's better reviewed than many Marvel and DC movies
Sky High has a pretty solid spot on the list of the best superhero movies ever made, at least according to the critics. Reputable publications like Variety, The Village Voice, and The New York Times reviewed Sky High favorably, earning it a 73% on the (in)famous Tomatometer.
This means it’s rated higher than two MCU movies, four DCEU movies, and four X-Men movies. Let's not even get into the disastrous Fantastic Four films!
Even Marvel’s most popular hero, Spider-Man, was outdone by this spoofy teen romp on two occasions: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 scored a 63% and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with Andrew Garfield scored a 52%.
The Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus reads: "This highly derivative coming-of-age flick is moderately entertaining, family-friendly fluff."
Critics praised the film for its tongue-in-cheek humor, family-friendly tone, and surprisingly well-done CGI for its time. A quick glance at the reviews show a fair amount of comparison to The Incredibles, another superhero family-themed Disney flick, and the Harry Potter series for its premise about a school for kids with powers. It’s amazing that, even in a world inundated with superhero movies, Sky High still holds its own after all this time.
18 The director kept the teen actors separated so they wouldn't date
On-set romances can be a mixed bag. Sometimes, they can lead to long-lasting relationships. The Commander himself, Kurt Russell, met Goldie Hawn, his partner of 34 years, on the set of the 1984 film Swing Shift. But an on-set romance gone sour can make life on set difficult for the rest of the cast and crew, or even ruin a project, particularly when the actors are young and hormonal. Take One Tree Hill co-stars Sophia Bush and Chad Michael Murray, for example. The pair had a whirlwind romance on set, getting married and then separating after a mere 5 months. They then had to work together for years afterward.
The cliques from Sky High formed in real life — the performers playing the heroes tended to hang out together between scenes, as did the actors who portrayed the sidekicks and those who played the bullies.
But according to the cast, there was a lot of camaraderie on set.
Director Mike Mitchell knew going into production that curtailing on-set romances was the best way to have a fun and cooperative set. Thus, the teen actors were kept separate because Mitchell “did not want them to date after the second week and break up after the fourth.” And it seemed to pay off!
Danielle Panabaker, who played Layla, even said it was “possibly one of the most enjoyable movies [she’s] worked on.”
17 The writers created Kim Possible
Screenwriter Paul Hernandez was a huge comic book fan, but his highly original concept that put the children of superheroes in high school took a decade to get picked up by Disney. Its success is credited in part to Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley, a writing duo best known for creating the Disney Channel original series Kim Possible in 2002.
Kim Possible has a lot in common with Sky High. Both feature teenage heroes with superhuman abilities who have to balance saving the world, growing up, and navigating high school.
McCorkle and Schooley had been working on other Disney properties like Buzz Lightyear of Star Command when they became interested in creating something original. They came up with the idea for Kim Possible in an elevator. McCorkle turned to Schooley and said, “Kim Possible. She can do anything.” Schooley replied, “Ron Stoppable. He can’t.” They wanted a strong female action hero with real-life problems that their daughters could look up to. They also put a heavy emphasis on comedy, citing it as something boys, girls, and their parents would be able to enjoy.
McCorkle said they knew that the show would be a little over-the-top, action-packed, and funny. Not only that, but it openly spoofs James Bond, spy movies, and teen sitcoms. It’s pretty clear where Sky High gets its spirit from!
16 The grown-ups are crazy and the girls are smarter
Watching Sky High as an adult, one thing that really stands out is the dichotomy between the kids and the adults. Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston make a fantastically oddball couple. It’s two parts bumbling parents in a teen movie and one part unstoppable superhero duo. Plus, the inclusion of comedians like Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald from the sketch series The Kids in the Hall gave the teachers a comedically offbeat feel.
It’s also hard to miss the differences between the girls and the boys. The central female characters like Gwen Grayson, Magenta, and even Layla are confident, self-assured, and perceptive. The boys, however, are much more immature.
This was entirely on purpose. Director Mark Mitchell said the film has two premises: “the adults are all insane” and “the girls are smarter than the boys.” In a movie geared toward an audience of kids and teenagers, Mitchell and the writing team wanted to make sure “the kids are the most grounded characters.”
Who doesn’t remember being a teenager and thinking your parents and teachers were absolutely insane?
Mitchell and his producer, Andrew Gunn, said the difference between the girls and the boys was intentional as well. “The girls in the movie are all extremely mature, confident…the guys at this age are idiots.” Seeing as it’s been scientifically proven that girls mature faster than boys, we’d say this is a pretty factual addition.
15 The cast is a sci-fi fan’s dream team
While Sky High was made for kids and teens, adult sci-fi fans will find a fair amount of fun Easter eggs to entertain them too. The cast, in particular, features an eclectic collection of cult sci-fi actors that many superhero and comic book fans will recognize upon sight. In case you missed some, we've got the run-down.
The Commander is played by Kurt Russell, known for his role as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York and the sequel, Escape from L.A. Russell also played MacReady in John Carpenter’s disturbing horror flick, The Thing.
His wife, Jetstream, is played by Kelly Preston, best known for playing Chirk alongside John Travolta and Forest Whitaker in Battlefield Earth.
Bruce Campbell, who plays Coach Boomer, is an actor and comedian made famous from his role as Ash in Evil Dead. He later reprised the role in the comedic TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead.
Perhaps most notably, Principal Powers was portrayed by Lynda Carter, who appeared as the titular character in the 1975 Wonder Woman series.
This high-caliber of sci-fi geek cred is just one small part of what makes Sky High stand out with surprising charm despite its cheesy tone and dated graphics.
14 The Wonder Woman homage was supposed to be more overt
Lynda Carter wanted Principal Powers to pay a much more direct homage. Mike Mitchell and Carter discussed the character donning gold bracelets or carrying a lasso to shout out Carter’s groundbreaking role years before, but unfortunately, the law got in the way, and Warner Bros. shut down the ideas for trademark and copyright reasons.
Mitchell and Carter remained determined to give Wonder Woman a nod. So instead, Mark Mitchell suggested a funny throwaway line at the end of the film: as Principal Powers locks Royal Pain and her team of villains up in the power-sucking detention chamber, she laments that she cannot help them. As she leaves the room, she mumbles, “I’m not Wonder Woman, you know.”
Carter praised the character of Principal Powers for her fearless femininity and no-nonsense attitude. She also said she had a lot to do with the character’s appearance. When the costume designers on Sky High approached her with the classic principal look, Carter suggested a wardrobe much more in line with her Wonder Woman past.
Lynda Carter wanted to ditch the tweed and bun for stilettos and power suits.
Mitchell was apprehensive about Carter's bold choice. So she countered: “she can't be a shrimp and you cast me! It's me, it's not just someone else, it’s me! So I say let’s just bomb her out.”
13 The school nurse was in Wonder Woman, too
Mike Mitchell has said on the record that Cloris Leachman’s stellar appearance in Sky High as the school nurse was one of his favorite parts of the film to work on. Leachman, now 92, enjoyed an illustrious career as a comedic actress.
She is best known for her work as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, Ruth Popper in The Last Picture Show, and Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Leachman even landed her own Mary Tyler Moore spinoff, Phyllis, following the escapades of the snobby landlady in San Fransisco. The series ran for two seasons in the mid to late 1970’s.
But Leachman’s work wasn’t always comedic. She also appeared in the pilot episode of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman! Leachman appeared as Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyte. Her brief but brilliant cameo is still lauded to this day.
She even got to utter one of the series’ most quotable lines: “I named this island Paradise for an excellent reason. There are no men on it. Thus, it is free from their wars, their greed, their hostility, their barbaric masculine behavior.”
It was classic, not only for its feminist vigor but for Leachman’s unmatchable delivery. It was snide, filled with contempt, and hilarious to boot.
12 Spongebob and Karen's cameos
Sky High’s cameos aren’t just for adults, although most kids probably wouldn’t recognize these two at first glance. Tom Kenny is best known for his voice acting as the world’s favorite sea-based sponge, SpongeBob Squarepants, and his wife, Jill Talley, voices Plankton’s evil computer system, Karen.
Both performers have had illustrious voice acting careers outside of SpongeBob and Karen, however. Kenny voices many other characters on SpongeBob Squarepants, including Gary, Patchy the Pirate, and Dirty Bubble, as well as other characters on Rocko’s Modern Life, Adventure Time, and CatDog, with live-action roles in The Edge and Mr. Show Talley has voiced characters on The Boondocks and The Loud House, as well as landed herself a few live-action roles in Little Miss Sunshine and World’s Greatest Dad.
In Sky High, both actors appear as their live-action, unanimated selves.
The real-life married couple appears briefly toward the end of the movie. After Royal Pain sabotages the school, it starts to fall out of the sky, plummeting toward a quiet, suburban neighborhood. There’s a married couple about to enter their new home who are caught, terrified by the giant, falling building. Will comes to the rescue, just in the nick of time, and saves Kenny and Talley's characters lives.
11 Dean from Community plays Royal Pain’s henchman
Another cameo many adults will recognize is Jim Rash, who plays Gwen Grayson’s father and Royal Pain’s henchman, Stitches. The comedian became a cult favorite playing Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community. His role in Sky High has since garnered jokes that Stitches is just another one of the Dean’s ridiculous costumes, like Lady Gaga, Tina Turner, or that dalmation.
Rash had an expansive career before Community as well. He appeared as a series regular on Reno 911! and That 70’s Show, as well as smaller roles on Friends, The Practice, and NCIS. Thanks to his Community connection to directors the Russo brothers, Rash had a cameo in Captain America: Civil War as well.
But acting and comedy are not Rash’s only skills. He is also a producer and an Oscar-winning screenwriter! Rash had written a TV movie and worked as a guest writer on an episode of Saturday Night Live. In 2011, Rash wrote the screenplay for The Descendants with Nat Faxton and director Alexander Payne. The film was adapted from a novel of the same name. It went on to star George Clooney and Shailene Woodley and got critical acclaim for its screenplay and performances.
Rash later went on to write, direct, and act in The Way Way Back in 2013.
10 Each character has a distinctive and meaningful color scheme
It’s not uncommon for superhero costumes to tell us something about the hero wearing it. Captain America, for instance, dons red, white, and blue in his stars and stripes-themed costume. Nothing speaks to Batman’s persona more than his dark to the point of being pitch black cloak and cowl.
In Sky High, our young heroes are still in training, which means no super-suits yet, so the costume designers took the concept of a suit and transferred it to the characters' everyday wardrobes.
Each hero, sidekick, and villain got a distinctive color palette and style that tells the viewer something about their persona.
Will Stronghold acts as the all-American hero, so it’s only fitting that he sports red, white, and blue. Layla, the pacifist, hippie, girl-next-door sports green earth tones with a boho flair for most of the movie. This reflects her power (controlling plants) as well as her down-to-earth attitude. Warren Peace is a textbook “bad boy,” so it’s only right that he wears black leather and sports flame tattoos on his arms. Zach (Nicholas Braun) wears bright yellow to represent his power to glow, and Magenta (Kelly Vitz) rocks purple highlights, which remain when she shapeshifts into a guinea pig.
9 Sky High actors go on to superhero greatness
Sky High was released in 2005, three years before Iron Man would premiere, kickstart the MCU, and change cinema forever. It seems like almost every actor is getting cast in superhero projects these days, and the Sky High cast is no exception. A fair amount of cast members have gone on to appear in Marvel or DC films and shows, and some might come as a surprise.
Danielle Panabaker, who played Layla in Sky High, now plays Caitlin Snow, AKA Killer Frost, on The Flash. At first, she refused to embrace her superhuman abilities, but a twist toward the end of the third season of The Flash caused Caitlin to transform into Killer Frost due to a fatal injury. Though the decision is controversial, Panabaker has appeared in multiple DC television series, including Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow.
Other Sky High alumnae aren’t comic book icons like her, but Kurt Russell had a role in the MCU as Ego, Star-Lord’s Celestial father, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Bruce Campbell made three hilarious cameos in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy as a wrestling announcer, an usher, and a French maître d’.
Gwen Grayson, AKA Mary Elizabeth Winstead, has since appeared in a heap of big-budget sci-fi movies and franchises, including Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as Ramona Flowers, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.
8 The meaning behind character names
Gwen Grayson calls to mind two iconic comic book characters: Gwen Stacy and Dick Grayson. Gwen Stacy first appeared in a Spider-Man comic from 1965 as Peter Parker’s first love. In the comics, the Green Goblin ended Gwen by throwing her off a bridge, and Spider-Man was unable to save her. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 recreated the scene with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Dick Grayson appeared in a 1940 Detective Comic alongside Batman as Robin. Dick becomes the leader of the Teen Titans and eventually grows tired of being Batman’s sidekick, becoming Nightwing.
From her name, we can deduce that Gwen Grayson will be an important love interest who feels underappreciated for her abilities.
The meaning behind Warren Peace’s name is much more overt. In addition to evoking the iconic title of the Tolstoy novel, the name indicates that Warren is a conflicted character. His mother was a hero, but his father was a villain. Warren and Will start the year as rivals because The Commander, Will's father, captured Warren's father and put him to justice. Warren wants to avenge his father, but also rise above him and become a true hero.
Even the name Will Stronghold suggests more than you might think. The name “William” is derived from the German name “Wilhelm” and means “determined protector.” As for Stronghold, well, that one’s pretty self-explanatory.
7 The soundtrack is almost entirely covers of songs from the 1980s
Sky High takes a lot of cues from '80s high school movies. The hero/sidekick dynamic mirrors the jock/nerd dichotomy minted by John Hughes-esque stories. Plus, the fact that the school is responsible for creating this de facto ranking system among the students parallels '80s teen movie villains like Ed Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Some critics have even credited Sky High as a precursor to Spider-Man: Homecoming, which was praised for seamlessly combining the superhero and teen comedy genres.
It’s no surprise that the film’s soundtrack directly reflects its influences. The entire soundtrack (with one exception) consists of covers of '80s hits by current pop artists and groups. Mid-2000's teen pop icons Bowling for Soup and Vitamin cover tracks like “I Melt With You” and “Voices Carry”. The result: a pop-punk sound implicative of its time with a distinctive nostalgic, classic teen movie feeling.
One track on the soundtrack is performed by one of the film’s stars — Steven Strait, who plays Warren Peace, got his own cover of The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads To Another”, featured during the Homecoming dance scene. Strait’s music was also featured on the soundtrack of another 2005 film, Undiscovered. The film also stars Carrie Fisher and centers around a group of musicians in LA.
6 It mocks other superheroes
Sky High pays a fair amount of homage to the superhero genre and its cast of quintessential characters. For every respectful nod, there is an equal or greater parody. It makes sense that the creators of Kim Possible, which is rife with spoofs of action films, would pack their script full of in-jokes and overt satire.
Now that superhero knowledge is household trivia, revisiting the jokes result in some good belly laughs.
Cloris Leachman, portraying the school nurse, explains power inheritance to Will using a very familiar example: “The kids who get bit by radioactive insects or fall into a vat of toxic waste, their powers usually show up the next day.” This is, of course, a salute to Spider-Man, as well as a jab at his origin story. Sure, we all wish a radioactive spider bite led to a life of web-slinging crime fighting, but at best, it would result in an annoying red bump at the site of the bite, or at worst, a slow and painful loss of life. The toxic waste comment, which comes back at the end of the film when Ron Wilson, bus driver, falls into a vat of toxic waste and gains superpowers, is a nod to the Toxic Avenger, a 1984 cult film.
The Secret Sanctum is perhaps a spoof of the Sanctum Sanctorum, the hideout of Marvel’s Doctor Strange. And when Mr. Boy’s warns against clashing sidekick colors, he is likely ragging on Batman and Robin’s strange and mismatched color combinations.
5 Mike Mitchell was an illustrator before he was a director
The cast on the set of Sky High showered director Mike Mitchell with praise. Steven Strait (Warren Peace) said that Mitchell is “definitely a kid at heart,” and Mary Elizabeth Winstead said his ability to work with and connect with kids is unparalleled. He also directed Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Surviving Christmas, and Trolls. He is currently co-directing a sequel to The Lego Movie, along with Robot Chicken art director, Trisha Gum.
Though he was always creative, Mitchell wasn’t always a film director. Growing up in Oklahoma, Mitchell and his friends shot garage bands with an 8mm camera. Then, he headed to LA to attend California Institute of the Arts. There, he was classmates with the eventual creator of SpongeBob SquarePants and legendary Pixar director Pete Docter.
After graduating, Mitchell became an illustrator and storyboard artist. His clients included Tim Burton and Spike Jonez, who he called “the most creative guy in the world.” In addition to his directorial work, he still storyboards today. In fact, he’s responsible for the famous food attack scene in Seth Rogen’s bizarre animated feature, Sausage Party!
The colorful and almost cartoonish visuals of Sky High definitely reflect Mitchell's illustration background, which has the added side-effect of remind us of a comic book.
4 There’s an online comic with a similar premise
The concept of Sky High was lauded for its originality at the time of its development and release, but in 2002, a similar indie comic came out, written and drawn by Aaron Williams. The comic strips, called PS238, can now be found online in their entirety.
The story revolves around the lives of various parents, students, and teachers in PS238, a fictional school for children with superhuman abilities.
The central character, Tyler Marlocke, is the child of the world’s most powerful superheroes who lacks any type of powers himself. A rich Batman-like character with no latent superpowers himself, The Revenant, recruits Tyler as his Robin-like sidekick. Eventually, Tyler becomes Moon Shadow.
Each issue chronicles the everyday goings on at PS238, as well as fleshes out the interpersonal relationships between its characters.
The characters are subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nods to major mainstream heroes and villains, including Atlas, an alien from the planet Argos (analogous to Superman and Krypton) and Victor Von Fogg (a clear shoutout to Marvel’s Victor Von Doom, aka Doctor Doom). Other characters include Coach Rockslide (similar to The Thing), Freedom Fighter (Captain America), and Alejandro Torres, AKA The Flea, a smart-aleck jokester analogous to Miles Morales’s Spider-Man.
3 Incredibles composer Michael Giacchino did the score
Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino is responsible for Sky High’s exultant score. A year after the release of The Incredibles, Giacchino returned to the superhero genre in another collaboration with Disney.
In contrast to the retro vibe of The Incredibles, Giacchino wanted Sky High’s orchestrations to sound “fun, but serious.” He likened the feeling to watching animated Superman cartoons. Mike Mitchell worked very closely with Giacchino to create a brassy and confident arc, though each cue was a little different depending on the scene. Giacchino recorded score with an 82-piece orchestra.
Michael Giacchino is one of the most critically acclaimed and well-known composers in the industry. He went on to score massive franchises like Star Trek, Jurassic World, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as well as other superhero movies in the MCU: Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
He also has a long creative history with Disney, having scored a slew of Disney Pixar films like Ratatouille, Inside Out, Coco and Up - which earned him an Academy Award - and straight forward Disney films like Zootopia and Tomorrowland.
Up next on Giacchino's plate are The Incredibles 2 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, both of which are due out in the summer of 2018.
2 It was ahead of its time
It’s hard to believe Sky High isn’t in more of our conversations surrounding superheroes these days. In the MCU and DCEU worlds, superheroes are commonplace. So what is life like for the children of heroes?
We got a glimpse of high school in the MCU with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, but in a society where secret identities don’t last longer than a movie or two, what will become of children who realize they have powers at a young age? Will there be a school for future Avengers? Does Xavier’s School for the Gifted exist in this universe? Who decides what makes a hero versus a sidekick? Sky High brought up all of these concerns in a fun, self-referential way.
Though it made back its $35 million budget with a worldwide box office of about $86 million, we wonder how a movie like Sky High would fare today.
Its setting is already familiar to modern audiences: a world where superheroes are commonplace. The school’s blend of tech and superpowers are straight out of a Batman, Iron Man, or Black Panther storyline. Like Harry Potter was for Millennials, superhero movies have become a cultural touchstone for an entire generation, so it makes sense to combine the two.
Marvel boss Kevin Feige has even stated himself that a Harry Potter archetype may be in the works for the future of Spider-Man, so perhaps a Sky High of the MCU is on its way.
1 There’s reportedly a sequel in the works
Why wait for Marvel? According to a 2016 report, a sequel to Sky High is already in the works! Mike Mitchell is reportedly penning the script, along with animator Walt Dohrn, who worked with Mitchell on Trolls. It’s unlikely the follow-up will be a true sequel – most of the child actors would have aged out of high school by now, but the possibility for a soft reboot is always open. Perhaps the original cast could appear as parents sending their own children off to high school. What’s a Sky High 2 without a Kurt Russell cameo?
Unfortunately, Disney has yet to make any official announcement. According to Mitchel, the studio is debating between moving forward with Sky High or reviving the Shrek franchise. Nevertheless, this potential sequel has fans hyped, and they're already listing plot points and concepts they want to see explored. Some of our favorite ideas are a Royal Pain super villain academy, some fresh comedic and superhero cameos, and the return of Danielle Panabaker’s Layla.
Do you have any other trivia to share about Sky High? Let us know in the comments!