I’ve decided to start re-watching some of my favourite movies from when I was growing up—so that’s a lot of 90s and early 2000s flicks to get ready for. I know every generation feels like they had the best… but can you really deny the greatness of 90s kids movies? Lion King, Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Shrek, The Incredibles… they were fantastic. And one of my favourites was Spy Kids from 2001.
Like many of those favourites, they’re still pretty fun since they either came with hidden adult jokes or an enjoyable enough story to keep parents involved. In Spy Kids, two young kids have to become spies to save their parents. They’re left on their own to fend for themselves with silly gadgets and a lack of real-world knowledge, but a lot of heart.
Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara are Carmen and Juni, these spy kids, and they develop into a great brother-sister pair. Some may call the writing a little lazy at points, but I found it refreshingly honest in a childhood tale—we don’t need lots of description as to why something’s too late, a big “too late” popping up on a computer screen is good enough. What is a little freaky? The Floop TV show for kids. It’s colourful, mindless, and freaky with those weird characters. I guess there are real shows like Spongebob so I shouldn’t judge too much, but what parents think this show is good for their kids?
What’s so great about this film, you may ask? Well, here’s my top five favourite things.
1. Star-Studded Cast.
Honestly, director Robert Rodriguez must have pulled a lot of strings with friends to get such an incredible cast for this one. First, you’ve got the incredible parenting team of Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas. They’re a dream-spy-team and power-couple all rolled into one, plus did you see that fake pencil thin moustache? It’s hilarious and I can’t get enough of them.
Next, the ‘evil mastermind’ is Alan. Freaking. Cumming. I know he’s done a lot of incredible work, but this flamboyant character will always be what I first think of when I see him, and I’m okay with that. You’ve also got Tony Shalhoub as his minion, but we’ll get to that later. Finally, George Clooney is in a surprise final-scene cameo as the American President. Even as a child I knew how cool this was and I’m still so happy he agreed to it.
2. Child Mindset and Goofy Gadgets
The whole movie feels like it’s written from a child’s imagination. We start with a very real-world family at bedtime, brushing teeth and hearing a bedtime story of a spy wedding. From there, the kids are thrust into this spy-world where most adults are evil or lying and they have to figure everything out themselves.
The best example of that childhood imagination is all the gadgets we see. The world’s smallest camera is literally air, neon green gum gets an electrical current to zap someone with once chewed, silly string hardens to become concrete once sprayed, and a red crayon is so acidic it quickly cuts straight through metal. And don’t forget the microwave that creates food, practically out of thin air! That amazed me when growing up and as an adult I’d still really like to get that device…
When the kids don’t know what to do, they end up sitting in a playground; the kids bicker throughout the whole movie while always maintaining their familial bond, they know exactly how hard to push each other. It’s little things like this which made the first movie so good—they’re like real kids, thinking how a kid would probably think instead of acting WAY more intelligently then a 10-year-old in real life.
The cinematography also displays this child-focused mindset by filming from a lower height than normal. We’re placed in the kids shoes for a lot of these scenes, getting put into their perspective rather than that of the adult and slightly ‘looking up’ at the adults.
3. Evil Mastermind and Henchman Reversal
Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub are the ‘bad guys’ of the movie but in a great role reversal, the lead villain Cumming in Fagan Floop and his helper Shalhoub as Minion swap the evil role. Normally, you’d expect someone named Minion is exactly that, the person who isn’t evil but acts on what the mastermind wants. Instead, Floop is really being pushed along by his more evil counterpart. That’s a theme we’ll continue into the second movie, when Steve Buscemi (another star casting choice) is just a hermit scientist on an island—and not the bad guy at all.
4. Minimal Violence, Getting Past Censors
Keeping with the childhood imaginative theme, we don’t really have much violence to speak up. When the real-kids and robot-kids meet up for their all important battle they don’t actually fight each other, but instead have a wall-punching duel. The kids are told to close their eyes (and the camera turns away) when the parents knock out a bunch of guards surrounding them, and there’s basically no swearing. They do manage to get past the censors in one pivotal shit-ake mushrooms line that because quite a sensation for the movie.
That’s really all I have to say on this one. The thumb thumbs were one of my favourite comedic things of this movie, and I loved that they made it into a couple clips of future movies as well. These things were too funny as a child.
The Spy Kids series is on Netflix, so check that out and let me know which kids movie was your favourite when growing up!