|It's a rare feat when a filmmaker can create a children's film that isn't so offensive to parents that hearing it played over and over again isn't torture. But Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez has done just that. The film is a very well made children's adventure that combines some unique elements and some tried and true strategies that create a film that's appealing on all fronts. It's a fantasy story that any child would love, but it has some parts to it that make it something more than the run-of-the-mill children's flick.|
Something which is unique right off the bat, is that the story takes place in a Latin American country, rather than the usual Smalltown, USA. The whole look of the film has that spanish and indian influence which makes it much more interesting to the eye that the normal children's adventure. Films can almost become bland without colorful scenery to look at and given that children's films often contain a limited plot. But this film benefits from a good idea and some good location scouting. The film has more than the occasional bit of unbelievability, but the story is almost heartwarming in a sense, when you pull away the plot of the film to reveal the basic theme for the movie: a man and wife must learn to communicate with their children and those children must learn to reciprocate if they are to survive as a family.
This theme might sound like the plot of an ABC after school special, but it's a good teaching tool for kids. And this idea of family is layered against a plot (the "spy" kids saving their parents) that disguises the film's educational purpose. The film takes education and makes it fun. Although the film borrows from most of the well known spy franchises and films, like James Bond and Mission Impossible, placing the spy game into the childrens' court is pretty smart. It's got all the usual hallmarks of a spy film, like cool toys, an evil person who has plans for world domination, etc, but in Spy Kids, the spy factor is an element of fun, rather than some serious do or die campaign.
This film never forgets to be funny and it never takes itself seriously. In fact, the humor in this film is appealing to more than just the under twelve set. It's hard to make a film that's truly appealing to all ages. Most of the time, films that are appealing to kids star a purple dinosaur and getting children to sit still in a movie that mom and dad can tolerate is next to impossible. But this film seems to accomplish the impossible. There are no singing dinosaurs and the film isn't so childish that an adult would find it a waste of time. Again, this is not something which is easily accomplished. This success probably owes itself to two factors.
The first is that the right cast came together at the right time to make a film that had a more than decent script. And the second is that Robert Rodriguez wrote and directed Spy Kids. Having stayed well away from children's flicks and all types of films likely to attract an audience under the age of ten, it's refreshing to see that Roderiguez's talent extends further than the R rated spectrum of filmmaking. As every one of his prior films garnered an R rating, it's surprising that Roderiguiz can switch gears so completely and make such a successful children's film.
This film has so much more going for it than its contemporaries in the children's film genre. It's possibly the only film of it's kind - appealing to all ages - that's been released in the past few years. Excepting a few exceptional animated features, Spy Kids stands alone as an achievement both in good filmmaking and a product that's fun for kids. Something else this film has going for it is its cast. With a slate of actors that would look good on any crew sheet, this film adds two child actors who are able to portray their characters with maturity, yet still keep their characters in the realm of children.
Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara should have bright futures in acting. They each have a lot of talent and it's partly because of their abilities that this film is so successful. Kids, on average, tend to be kind of annoying, but these two actors just make the film look cute. And having a cast that includes Antonio Banderas, Carla Gunino, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Danny Trejo, Robert Patrick, and the venerable Cheech Marin can't hurt either. The cast for this film is more than impressive and it shows in the film. Good script, good acting, great directing, and unique cinematography and location make this film the best children's film of the year.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.