Critics' Picks : New Dvds

Heroes and sidekicks and all the pain of high school in 'Sky High'

November 27, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW

SKY HIGH / / Buena Vista Home Video / / $29.99

One of the summer's few sleepers, the clever, piquant superhero family comedy Sky High arrives Tuesday on DVD. The movie cost $35 million -- peanuts for a big-studio picture -- but it grossed more than $63 million on good reviews and word of mouth. It's about an American superhero high school that floats in the clouds. Nonetheless, it appeals as much to adults as to teenagers.

Director Mike Mitchell and writers Paul Hernandez and Bob Schooley & Mark McCorkle maintain a cheery balance in the writing and the casting. Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston prove to be a fetching, funny couple as Steve and Josie Stronghold, aka The Commander (a super-strongman) and Jetstream (who can fly). They're deft at satirizing the stratospheric expectations that accomplished parents hold over their kids.

Michael Angarano is charmingly self-effacing as their son Will, who hasn't developed super-powers yet. He's also good at playing with other misfits when he enters Sky High and gets dropped into the ranks of Sidekicks-to-be instead of Superheroes-in-training.

Will's summing-up speech epitomizes the pop wisdom of the film: "In the end, my girlfriend became my arch enemy, my arch enemy became my best friend, and my best friend became my girlfriend. But hey ... it's high school."

Special features: The movie itself is sharp about cliques and crushes -- the funniest punch line may come when Sky High's reigning good / bad girl (or is it bad / good girl?) complains, "I went through puberty twice, for this." So it's startling that the main DVD featurette, Welcome to Sky High, is so jejune. Over and over it states that for the kids in the cast, filming was the equivalent of summer camp, with filmmaker Mitchell as a jolly, young-at-heart activities director. Surprisingly, the second featurette, Breaking Down the Walls: The Stunts of Sky High, ends up more enlightening. It demonstrates how far the filmmakers went to use physical effects instead of digital wizardry and to put the actors and not their stunt doubles in the middle of the action. The resulting tactile slapstick helps give the way-out comedy its crunch.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

MARCH OF THE PENGUINS / / Warner Home Video / / $28.98

In Luc Jacquet's gorgeous nature documentary, the emperor penguins' annual mating trek across Antarctica's glacial ice becomes a Homeric odyssey, as harrowing as it is exalting. By the end, Jacquet's penguins seem 10 feet tall. It's a jolt when the final shots reveal human cameramen towering over them.

The DVD (out Tuesday) expands on the film's shock and wonder with "crittercam shots" of the penguins diving and feeding and Of Penguins and Men, a behind-the-scenes documentary. And for a delightful flick of comedy, the Warner Home Video folks provide 8 Ball Bunny, a WB animated short starring Bugs Bunny and a penguin.

[MICHAEL SRAGOW]

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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