Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Room for Improvement:
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
Sky High is full of amazing women with extraordinary talents. Will’s mother, Josie/Jetstream, is a successful real estate agent by day and crime-fighter by night, flying into dangerous missions and fighting evil alongside her husband. Principal Powers, is the primary authority of Sky High, the woman responsible for educating and molding the next generation of superheroes. Gwen, the technocrat, is the student body president with an amazing gift for reorganizing and commanding technology. Will’s best friend, Layla, is a young woman with strong opinions on social equality, vegetarianism and abusing one’s superpowers. Layla has an amazing connection with nature and can summon the plants and earth to grow and shift around her. Finally another sidekick named Magenta has the ability to turn herself into a guinea pig, a skill that seems useless, but comes in handy when everyone else’s powers have failed. Even the old doctor that examines Will after a mishap in the gym, has a special sort of x-ray vision, and a certain amount of wisdom to share.
Gender Roles - Men: 4.5 Stars
Will Stronghold isn’t the cocky, arrogant sort of person that one might expect from the son of two superheroes. To the contrary, Will is humble, insecure and loyal to those he calls his friends. Sky High contains a terrific scene where Will finds the courage to tell his father that he’s been placed with the sidekicks, rather than the heroes. Although he knows it will crush his father, Will breaks the news without a lot of shame or embarrassment. He stands up for his friends and for himself at the same time, forcing his dad to recognize that people don’t have to be super strong or save the world to be worthwhile.
Plot: 4 Stars
Although Will Stronghold is the protagonist and primary hero of Sky High, the film gives the underappreciated sidekicks the opportunity to be heroes as well. Layla not only engages her superpowers to trap a villain named Penny in a mess of twisted vines, but makes it abundantly clear that she could have been a hero all along. She chose to be a sidekick because she doesn’t believe in the school’s system of segregating people into groups and labeling them. Layla knows that everyone has their contributions to bring to the table. This simple truth that Will takes the entire movie to figure out, Layla understood from the very beginning.
Sky High also gives Magenta an opportunity to save herself and her friends by shrinking in size and moving about the school undetected, showing us that sometimes stealth and cunning can achieve things that superhuman strength cannot.
Character Development: 3.5 Stars
Layla is a terrific character that deserves her own movie. She is conscientious and out-spoken and willing to sacrifice her own advancement to defend her ideals. Her superpower is far more intriguing and versatile than Will’s gift of super strength, even if we don’t know how she intends to use it. She tells Will at the beginning that she can’t wait to finish high school and get to saving the world. This could be through growing gardens that feed the homeless, helping to protect the habitats of endangered species, experimenting with exotic plants that can cure diseases, or a myriad of other-worldly possibilities. It’s surprising and encouraging to see such an impressive young woman playing the part of the hero’s best friend and love interest, but it’s also a bit disappointing that she’s limited to a supporting role.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3 Stars
Sky High gives each of its female characters amazing gifts that are far more significant to their social status than their appearances. While this is a terrific variation from the usual high school drama, it’s curious that all of the female characters are also thin and attractive. The boys have a few examples of unattractive males who become wildly popular due to their unique talents – Larry, Speed, and Lash. But Sky High doesn’t take the extra step of giving an unattractive girl some special skills.
Sky High does include some diversity - Magenta is Asian and Penny is African American - but all of them are pretty girls who might have had an easier time in a normal high school, where being beautiful is its own form of superpower.
Love: 3 Stars
Layla and Will have been best friends for a long time, so we know their relationship is based on true affection and respect. At the same time, Will’s rise to stardom at Sky High creates a noticeable rift in their friendship. It’s a little frustrating that Layla is so wrapped up in Will that she seems to lose some of her signature self-confidence. She’s quick to forgive him when he stands her up at her favorite restaurant. And even when she learns that he’s interested in Gwen, she's so determined to win him over that she starts faking an attraction to Warren to make him jealous. The only redeeming factor in all of this is that Will immediately drops Gwen when he realizes the sort of person that she is. He isn’t so mesmerized by her charm or popularity that he’s going to allow her to hurt his friends. While this doesn’t completely explain or excuse Layla’s slipping sense of self-respect, it at least tells us that Will cares for her enough to stand up for her, and that he might be the sort of guy who is worth fighting for.