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Spy Kids (2001)


There are few respectable filmmakers in the world that would take on the difficult challenge of creating a children’s movie. I don’t mean those hack directors who just sit behind the camera and yell ‘action’ and ‘print,’ but those few who take on the challenge of writing, directing, producing, and even editing a successful film for the underage masses. Creating a fantasy world with non-abrasive violence, imaginative sets and props, and engaging characters to follow is a tough process. With Spy Kids, Robert Rodriguez proves that his handling of adult fare extends to kids’ stuff, too.

My favorite films are from my childhood Flash Gordon, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Mary Poppins, the Muppets movies, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and The Never-Ending Story — and they all presented an impossible world made real only by the power of imagination. Spy Kids ranks up there with the best children’s films by creating implausible scenarios made from martial arts stunts, gee-whiz spy gadgets, robots built entirely of huge thumbs, a holodeck-like room filled with rolling clouds and stretches of golden sands, and providing total escapism for both kids and adults.

The story is simple and straightforward, and it zips along like a sunburned child on a Slip & Slide. Two kids, Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega), find out their parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) are real-life spies after they are captured by the diabolic Floop (Alan Cumming), a man with a strange Sid and Marty Krofft-style puppet show filled with enough goodwill to make Stuart Smalley envious. Floop’s diabolic scheme is to build an army of robotic ‘spy kids’ powered by an artificial intelligence brain invented by Gregorio (Banderas) in his past as a spy.

After their parents’ abduction, the kids are thrown into a whirlwind adventure of flying through the air with jet packs, setting Teri Hatcher’s hair on fire, fighting robots with electro-shock gumballs, accessing databases with computerized sunglasses, and learning to believe that your dreams can come true.

Imagination is the greatest asset of Spy Kids. Rodriguez, who previously worked as a comic strip artist UT-Austin’s The Daily Texan (as did our Editor in Chief, Christopher Null), deploys that creativity throughout the production of Spy Kids, showing off sharp directing, amazing set designs, inventive spy gadgetry, great acting from his cast, and a fast-paced script that is action-packed and hilarious from the first frame to the last. The most memorable piece of the film is the amazing mix of digital animation and costume designs that bring to the life the beauty of Floop’s TV show — a magic world that’s a crazy cross between Teletubbies, Reading Rainbow, and Romper Room.

The standout performance of the film belongs to Alan Cumming — the multitalented stage and screen actor seen in such films as Company Man, Titus, Get Carter, and GoldenEye. His portrayal of Floop as the misunderstand artist/genius/villain is a wonderful combination of Judy Garland, Pee-Wee Herman, and Willy Wonka. The image of Floop sitting on a cloud in his virtual world, pondering the errors of his ways, is both beautiful and subtly tragic.

Spy Kids is one of the best kids’ films to grace the silver screen in the last decade. Altogether, it’s a sharp and witty, action-packed film that will entertain the kid and adult in all of us.

They had fun fun fun until daddy took the spy boat away.