‘Tis the time to be jolly for fate hath brought about sequels better than the originals.
The Kid’s Movie Fairy, 2002
Spy Kids 2 is part of a double milestone in children’s movies this year. Released on the heels of Stuart Little 2, the Spy Kids match the mouse in surpassing their previous efforts. Doing so well is no cinch, for sequels may make more money, but they hardly ever meet the expectations of the critics or moviegoers, raised high by the success of the original.
Spy Kids 2 is a celebration of a kid’s imagination–to be precise, the imagination of a young kid in today’s technology-consumed world. It virtually overloads with gadgets of every conceivable kind, from the Whipper Snappers, Vomiters, and Jugglers of an amusement park to a watch that is a computer, cell phone and internet access provider all rolled into one. In a sanguine comment on how contemporary technology can ignore the essentials, the watch does not tell the time since there’s no space left for that.
The Spy Kids, Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) are back, this time with their skills sharpened from previous international spy operations. Their talents are importuned early in the movie when the President’s daughter is caught in a malfunctioning Juggler (a device that juggles people in its arms for fun) in an amusement park. Before they can rescue her, they are upstaged by two other kids, the leeringly handsome Gary Giggles (Matt O’Leary) and his sibling, Gerti Giggles (Emily Osmant, sister of Haley Joel Osmant.) The meeting of the two rival kiddy pairs sets up the fulcrum of the story —how the Cortez kids will prove themselves superior, both morally and in spy skills, all in the name of harmless fun, of course.
In the first Spy Kids story, it was an exhilarating experience to see creative characters such as the Thumbs, creatures made only of thumbs; the Kid-Robots, machines that look and act like human beings; Floop, the reformed showman genius; and the evil-looking Minion. These characters recur in Spy Kids 2 but only fleetingly, as if to arouse nostalgia. The better part of the movie consists of brand new gadgets and characters, like the green-eyed metal bug that is a slave to Juni Cortez, helping him put on his tux, and, on his command, getting top secret documents from his intelligence agency. The Cortez family also has to contend with a new kind of robot-villains whose metal caps are magnetic, making for an easy getaway when they attach themselves to passing flying machines.
This time around, the Spy Kids go to a remote island, The Island of Lost Dreams. The kids are searching for the Transmooker Device. If not recovered, the device has the potential to destroy the world…or something like that. The movie is deliberately vague about the details and instead invites the audience to delight in the action and the imagination.
Upon reaching the island, the kids discover some weird monsters. The monsters have sprung out of the experiments of a mad scientist (Steve Buscemi as Romero) who inadvertently unleashed a bevy of hybrid monsters straight out of “Jumanji: The Frankenstein Version.” There is a flying pig, a spider-animal with many legs, and several dragon-like snakes. And if the biological horror show was not enough, these fearsome creatures come in both miniature and mammoth versions. In the meantime, the Spy kids’ parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino as Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez) find out the kids are missing and reach the island in hot pursuit. They are accompanied by two new characters, the Spy Kids’ grandparents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor.) In other movies, the grandparents might have dragged down the pace a bit. Not in Spy Kids 2. The old codgers are as feisty as the kids and by emphasizing their curmudgeonly behavior, they bring added humor to the movie without in any way distracting from the main show. They constantly rib Gregorio with an attitude that says ‘We don’t think you deserve our girl.” Gregoria finds himself getting unsolicited advice on everything from driving directions to his razor thin moustache. Banderas plays his character like every kid’s Dad: nice and cool, sometimes funny, and at other times, just a pain in the neck.
Every scene and every plotline in the movie is treated with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Counterbalancing all the technology in the first half, when the kids reach the island, they discover that the mad scientist has blocked all electronic communication, making their elaborate gadgetry useless. Instead, they are made to fight with all the hybrid monsters and assorted villains, using only their wits and a rubber-band for support. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that the monsters are not really as ferocious as they seem at first.
The Island of Lost Dreams is like a kid’s dream come true. There is action with triumph, colorful characters with attitude, exotic animals with feelings, and finally, a happy meeting ground for the entire family, complete with doting grandparents. On this island, writer/director Robert Rodriguez has found his El Dorado.
– Nigam Nuggehalli