Sky High: Understanding Super Teens

In an edition of Geek Fruit Retcon, where we revisit and analyse movies we sometimes can't believe actually made it cinemas; Aaryaman Trivedi revisits Sky High and effectively has the same WTF reaction we all often get when go back and visit our own Alma Maters. But in like, a good way.

Puberty sucks, let’s be real about this. Your voice changes, your face becomes a fleshy connect-the-dots, you end up growing hair in places you never knew you could, and worst of all – it all happens when you’re in high school. When you’re not escaping the chronic despair of satisfying Indian expectations based solely on how much you score in a Physics paper, you’re practicing how to ask your crush out to the new Akshay Kumar flick. It’s easy for us mere mortals to reminisce about all the insane social norms associated with the age, but try imagining what superheroes go through! This is, essentially, the plot of the OG Disney movie Sky High.

Avengers: Age of Leave Me Alone, God Nobody Understands Me At All

Avengers: Age of Leave Me Alone, God Nobody Understands Me At All

This 2005 Disney classic is the story of Will Stronghold, an awkward teenager trying to get by in a world where spandex equals hanging out with the cool kids. So Comic Cons across the world, basically. His parents, The Commander and Jetstream, are both accomplished ‘heroes’, and the first 20 minutes of the film revolve around Will coming to terms with the fact the he doesn’t have any powers. In Sky High, freshmen are split into two classes – heroes and sidekicks, based solely on how cool your powers are (and whether or not they exist). While Will is dry in the superpower area, his childhood friend Layla, played by Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker), is a socio-politically aware, environmentally concerned, pacifist, vegetarian, feminist who can control plants.

Everyone has that one friend.

Everyone has that one friend.

The movie revolves around this hero/sidekick dichotomy which segregates students based on, arguably, a trivial physical component. If you can turn into a 7-foot stone golem, you’re a hero, but if you shape-shift into a guinea pig, you’re a sidekick? Outrageous! The superpowers function as a metaphor for the high school social hierarchy. When you get your powers, how refined (cool) they are and how well you use them both establish a status quo among the students.

After his first day at school, Will’s father, The Commander, played by veteran kung-fu truck driver Kurt Russell, takes Will into his Secret Sanctorum (i.e. Dad trophy room) to give him the "superpower talk". Now, this could be a clichéd great-power-great-responsibility spiel, or more likely, a birds-and-bees talk. And who wouldn’t want the sex talk from Star-lord’s father?

"Wait, you and mom did WHAT?"

"Wait, you and mom did WHAT?"

After a brawl with his new arch-nemesis in the cafeteria, Will realises he has super strength and gets bumped up from Sidekick class to Hero class, leaving his old friends behind for hot technopath girlfriends and stereotypical school bullies. Except they can run super fast and stretch body parts. After finding out his new girlfriend is actually a supervillain out to take over the world (20 points for originality), Will teams up with the sidekicks and saves the day. Woohoo!

What the audience can take away from this movie is not just the underlying moral that underdogs can up their game when the going gets tough, but also an insight into how teenage problems can be creatively depicted on screen. The superhero film genre is great, but shitty executions, reused plots, and cliched tropes can make it boring and unappealing. I’m looking at you, Zack Snyder.

Using the concept of superpowers to explore adolescent scenarios, without necessarily being coming-of-age stories, brings a light-hearted and comedic side to a genre we all know and love.  The fact that most of the target audience is between 13 and 24 makes creating relatable content a necessity for studios like Marvel. Part of the reason Spiderman movies are so successful (and have been rebooted so many times) is that they attempt to create a character true to the comic book version of Peter Parker; young, naïve and honestly just trying to not fail his calculus final. And can’t we all appreciate how important that is?

Scribe: Aaryaman Trivedi


Captains Log: Aaryaman Trivedi is an 18 year old liberal arts student at JSLH. In his free time he likes living in denial and lowering people's standards.