Fifteen years ago this week, director Mike Mitchell‘s Sky High had a bit of a problem finding an audience, and like most problems facing cinema and society in general, this one was at least a little bit Johnny Depp‘s fault. The film opened the same month as Tim Burton‘s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which child-murdered its way to the fifth-highest opening weekend of the year and remained at #1 for weeks afterward. As such, Sky High had to take as “cult” a route as any Disney movie can. It took a few years of randomly finding this movie in a bargain DVD bin, catching it on TBS on a Sunday afternoon, or just Googling “Kurt Russell spandex” for audiences to discover what a gem this film is. Effortlessly charming and cleverly written, Sky High took a loving look at classic superhero stories one month after Batman Begins toned down their colors and three years before Iron Man made them the dominant genre. Shifted in pretty much any direction, Sky High would’ve notched at least one sequel, if not a spinoff and/or franchise. In fact, that was the plan.
“The same writers that didn’t get credit on it, [Jonathan] Aibel and [Glenn] Berger, they did a lot of writing on that film,” Mitchell told io9 in 2019, “and we have a whole sequel that’s called Save U [which stands for] Save University.”
Folks, it is time. It is beyond time. Throw your cap in the air, sign your yearbooks, and lie to several hundred people about staying in touch, because high school is over and now, more than ever, we need to get into Save U.
There are a few reasons why Sky High deserves a sequel, the first of which is the fact Sky High whips ass. The film follows Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano)—son to Earth’s two mightiest superheroes, The Commander (Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston)—as he enters his first year at superhuman high school, Sky High. Unfortunately, Will hasn’t developed powers yet, and to his father’s great horror gets placed into “Hero Support” alongside plant-controlling pacifist Layla Williams (Danielle Panabaker), human Lite -Brite Zach Braun (Nicolas Braun), guinea pig shape-shifter Magent Lewis (Kelly Vitz), and literal puddle of goop Ethan Bank (Dee Jay Daniels). Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns Kurt Russell into a baby. Bruce Campbell plays a gym teacher named Sonic Boom. Lynda freaking Carter is the principal. The movie’s a blast.
What Sky High really understands—similar to what The Incredibles understood a year earlier—is the minutiae of being a superhuman every single day. The power of flight looks effortless from the ground, but anything can become routine if your morning commute takes you through the clouds. Figuring that out comes with much of the same foibles as your freshman year of high school. There’s power in getting your first taste of responsibility and freedom—and an opportunity to really “define” yourself for the first time, like picking the right logo for your spandex suit—but the first issue of any comic book will teach you that reigning in that power only comes after comically falling off a rooftop a few dozen times. So to speak.
But it also feels like the Sky High-verse (name pending) would occupy a unique place in the comic book movie world today that it couldn’t in 2005. We were so tender then, just eight years removed from Batman & Robin with visions of bat-nipples still dancing through our heads nightly. Of course Batman Begins hit so hard; it’s an aggressively serious movie that hit a pop culture fandom who wanted to be taken seriously, thank you very much. (The longterm ramifications of that are…a conversation for another day.) Meanwhile, Sky High is something right in the middle of parody and ripoff, poking fun at the classic comic book tropes but with nothing but love for extra-cheese earnestness of the most colorful Lee/Ditko joint.
It was hard to grasp on to at the time, but nowadays there’s a comic book movie for every corner of fandom. With a new MCU entry every other month (well, eventually), a Snyder Cut on the horizon, and the SPUMC gaining its hilariously-titled footing, these superheroes, these titans, are due to get brought back to Earth again. A Sky High sequel would be perfect not because the original left a ton of unanswered questions, but because a superhuman at that specific time in their life—not knowing what to do with their hands on a first date, much less with the powers of a god—hasn’t been explored enough. Not so much the origin story of a person becoming a superhero, but the origin story of a superhero becoming a person.
The dream remains very much alive. Literally as I wrote this, Inverse published an interview with co-writer Mark McCorkle, in which he said this:
“To me, it’s a very natural fit for Disney+, and over the years we always thought maybe a sequel could happen one of these days. There was always a belief that this was a rich enough world to keep going with new ideas. At least Mike seems to believe it. I guess if the film still has that same affection of people watching it and streaming it on Disney+, who knows. Maybe if the people speak, their wishes will be answered.”
Sure, the cast is older and the concept of a comic book movie has changed dramatically. But change is the point. In a genre where characters can remain static for years on end, something as simple as the journey from high school to college feels refreshing, an emotional leap big enough to clear tall buildings in a single bound.
Sky High is now streaming on HBO Max.