Spy Kids

Too often these days, children's films are junk. They condescend to the filmmaker's idea of what children will like. The result is a stupid film with fart jokes and bad acting. Which makes Spy Kids unique. This is what children's film should be. It is bursting with imagination and creativity, and is something that parents may actually enjoy watching. The most important difference lies with the kids themselves. They think. They are smart. They can improvise. This does not pander to kids. It shows what could happen when a kid's fantasy comes to life. Rather like a mini-James Bond adventure. Spy Kids is a wonderful new fantasy from, of all people, Robert Rodriguez. Is this really the same guy that made Desperado, The Faculty, El Mariachi and From Dusk Till Dawn? Apparently so.

Carmen (Alexa Vega, The Deep End of the Ocean, Ghosts of Mississippi) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) are the children of Gregorio (Antonio Banderas, The Thirteenth Warrior, Play It to the Bone) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino, Snake Eyes, The Love Life). Unknown to their kids, Gregorio and Ingrid are two ex-spies that fell in love and settled down to raise a family. A sense of wanderlust compels them to venture forth on another mission when many of their former allies go missing. They end up missing, and it is up to Carmen and Juni to rescue them and save the world. Their chief enemy is Floop (Alan Cumming, Get Carter, Company Man), the host of a children's television show. Carmen and Juni are unlikely heroes, since they have no idea what they are doing. They are just making it up as they go along.

Rodriguez's imagination shows in the details. Ingrid has a makeup counter that doubles as a computer. Carmen and Juni have tons of cool gadgets, like jetpacks and miniature cameras. The coolest looking thing (which unfortunately is not on screen too long) is the Guppy, a small escape ship/sub that looks like a, well, guppy. Floop lives in a huge castle, which oddly does not look out of place next to all the high-tech gizmos. He has robot henchmen called Thumb-thumbs. They have thumbs for their arms, legs, and heads. This is a colorful movie. Rodriguez (writer, director, editor, producer, editor, visual effects, some of the music, man this guy does everything!) creates a surreal world that looks like it came straight from a cartoon. Even the chains that strap Gregorio and Ingrid to their chairs are big and different colors. Red seems to be the primary color, and Floop's castle is awash with it. The humor is lighthearted and genial, and there is none of the omnipresent toilet humor. Well, there are two toilet jokes but they are benign compared to what's in other so-called "children's fare."

The adult actors do a nice job also. Tons of Rodriguez regulars make guest appearances, and some unexpected people have roles (would parents want their young children to know Cheech Marin or Cumming's more notorious roles?) Spy Kids also gives Danny Trejo (Reindeer Games, Skippy) his best role in a long time. Trejo is always cast as a thug because he looks like a thug. His roles tend to be in horrible, requiring acting and bad lines. Best of all, the children are not annoying. The younger a child actor is, the cutesier his/her role tends to become. This is distracting. Here, the kids are not mugging for the camera, they are foiling spies and solving problems. Bring on the sequels!

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 28 minutes, Rated PG for action sequences and brief language.

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