Halftime Leisure

Spy Kids Review: Send in the Thumbs

November 7, 2014

Memories are so often idealized over time, and become simplified as they grow distant from initial realities. Retrospectives on Robert Rodriguez’ 2001 classic, Spy Kids, fit neatly into this category of experience.

Spy Kids is classified as an “American science fantasy family adventure film” that follows the adventures of Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega), two child-spies who must rescue their secret agent parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino). Their parents are being held captive by Floop (Alan Cumming), an evil child’s television-show host who– with the help of his thumb-people minions– enslaves spies and transforms them into the monster-actors on his show. Juni and Carmen, with the help of their nifty spy kid gadgets, must fight off thumb people, obsessive double-agents, and platinum-suited robot children in order to get to Floop and free the trapped spies. This film premise, combined with stunning 2001-era visual effects, results in a nostalgic, if not deeply unsettling, cinematic experience.

Our viewing experience of Spy Kids, 13 years later, is hard to put into words. At points we felt uncomfortable; at others, nostalgic; at times, we worried about how long Floop’s thumb-minions would haunt our dreams. Perhaps the best way to convey our mixed emotions is through visual representation from the film itself:

We realize that in reviewing Spy Kids we may come across as crazy, simply by nature of our (nearly) fully developed prefrontal cortexes attempting to analyze the many convoluted elements of this film. As children, we completely glazed over the vast number of incongruencies in Spy Kids. In attempts to impose structure onto this chaotic cinematic experience, we broke our review into a few categories: setting, script, props, and characters. Please hold on to your 2000’s-era capris and fashion chokers.

The setting:
The film’s setting goes unidentified for the first 40 minutes of Spy Kids. In addition to panoramas of Mediterranean-esque beaches, locales ranged anywhere from rustic villas, to thrift stores, to underwater shark-sleeping caves, to densely-populated playgrounds, to island castles situated off of what appears to be the Irish coast. It is not until halfway through the film– when Carmen and Juni are fighting off thumb people in the playground– that we are given any identification of the setting: a subtitle, “San Diablo,” that appears on the bottom of the screen. The only further clarification we are given for the setting is in the end-credits, where filming locations ranged from the Bahamas to Austin, Texas.
Geographical confusion level: 7/10

The script:
Spy Kids’ boasts a simple script that is thoroughly enhanced by the visuals of the film. The dialogues in and of themselves are wonderful vehicles through which characters display their personalities: at one point, Carmen– the sassy, independent 12 year old protagonist– tells her brother “I shouldn’t be responsible for anyone but me.” You go, Carmen, you go.

The dialogue capitalizes on Spy Kids’ multicultural setting as well: when Juni flies away from the playground with the help of his booster pack, a child points at Juni’s shoes and says in Spanish, “I want those shoes.” The English translation is shown as a subtitle at the bottom of the screen.

A highlight from the script’s many simplistic yet insightful moments comes from Floop’s confrontation with Juni in the “virtual room.” In this scene, Floop delves into Juni’s psyche regarding his hand-wart problems and Juni puts Floop in his place:

Riveting, is it not?
Overall satisfaction with script: 5/10
Chances that script was written by hyperactive children: 9.75/10

The props:
The weapons used by Juni and Carmen are the envy of 10 year olds everywhere. In addition to bubble-gum that shocks whoever comes in contact with it (except for the gum-chewer…stay tuned for an article on Spy Kids logic), Juni and Carmen use super-spy watches, sunglasses, and multiple spy vehicles– including an underwater fish-submarine with built in toilets and a super-cool spy plane– to navigate their world. Their jet packs, which closely resemble Cuisinart mixers, were among our favorite devices as they were used for both travel and scorching the hair of enemy spies. These spectacular devices were closely followed in ingenuity by Floop’s inventions– particularly the brain-hats he used in attempts to brainwash Mr. and Mrs. Cortez, and the virtual room he created to bend the laws of physics (and gravity: in one scene, he lounges casually on a cloud while talking to Juni).

The wardrobe in Spy Kids is a whole separate affair– outfit accessories range from 2000s fashion-chokers (sported by both Carmen and her secret agent mother) to striped bow-ties, to multicolored neon band-aids (which Juni, affectionately called “Butterfingers” by his sister, uses to hide his finger warts). Most impressive were Juni and Carmen’s German-influenced “climbing clothes” in the first minutes of the film: the two dress in what resembles lederhosen as they climb through their seaside villa’s indoor playground. We were also struck by the simplicity of thumb-minion garb. Whether the thumb-minions wore simple red jumpsuits or ninja outfits, their low-key ensembles meshed well with the overwhelming colors and styles present in Juni and Carmen’s 2000s teen fashion.
Amount of money willing to spend on Cuisinart jetpack: $$$$
Desire to resuscitate early 21st century tween clothing trends: 2/10 (points added for beaded fashion chokers and cloth headbands)

The characters:
Many of the characters in Spy Kids are peppy and adventurous, and stay that way for the whole movie. Our personal favorite is Juni, the shy young spy whose major character arc involves getting over his insecurities of finger warts and inadequacy. Juni conquers his fears through action, as every spy should: he hits some thumb-people with his steel lunch-box, descends from ceilings on a zip-line, and uses the power of his words to confront Floop in the virtual room. A model for all young tweens, Juni proves to be the true protagonist of the film.

On another note, whoever thought it was a good idea to anthropomorphize a single appendage clearly did not think of the effects of that choice on viewers’ mental health. The thumb-minions in Spy Kids are amongst the most terrifying of monsters, even ranking above Floop’s contorted cartoon characters and the evil psycho-robot/mind-controlled children that try to fight off the spies.

Although we concede that thumbs provide nothing but advantages to the human race, turning them into minions– and then having them “talk” to each other and “look” places when they do not have the facilities to do so– was perhaps the single most terrifying choice on Robert Rodriguez’ part. Dear god, Rodriguez. It’s a miracle that memories of these thumb minions did not pervade our childhoods as much as they could have back in 2001.
Satisfaction with character development: 7/10
Chances of thumb-minion nightmares: 10/10

Spy Kids taught us many things in its short run-time of 90 minutes. We learned the values of collaboration, perseverance, and empathy from the adventures of Juni and Carmen; we found that even though internal family quarrels may persist, a family together is strong enough to take on hundreds of thumb-minions and robot children. Perhaps most important of all, we learned that child viewers (read: our former selves) have the amazing ability to ignore both multiple inaccuracies in logic and weirdly disturbing artistic styles for the sake of good old-fashioned adventure.

If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, we recommend revisiting Spy Kids for a blast from the past and a good dose of zany, illogical, and spy-tastic fun.

Images: Dogomovies.com, Wikipedia, Spy Kids, Drafthouse.com, Totalfilm.com

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