Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams proves beyond a reasonable doubt that director Robert Rodriguez can do everything he sets his mind to – except write a good pop song. But damned if he doesn’t try.
In addition to serving on Spy Kids 2 as the writer, director, editor, special effects supervisor, cinematographer and co-composer (with John Debney), Rodriguez also penned “Isle of Dreams,” his first stab at territory marked by “Britney Lopez,” as the kids’ crazy uncle Machete would say. However, “Isle of Dreams,” sung credibly enough by Alexa Vega, who plays Carmen Cortez in the film, is overproduced and dreary, which unfortunately leaves the last taste you’ll have of an otherwise wonderful companion to the original Spy Kids.
Like a Ray Harryhausen dream taken to the extreme (Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans were benchmarks in special effects), Spy Kids 2 quickly establishes that it’s Rodriguez’s world and we’re fortunate enough to live in it for an hour and a half. As the logo of his production company (and name of his first comic strip for the Texan), Troublemaker Studios, dissolves into the Troublemaker theme park, complete with very literal rides called the Whippersnapper, the Vomiter and the Juggler, it’s clear that any lost dreams Rodriguez himself had were expended for this sequel.
However, Spy Kids 2 isn’t so much an improvement over the original as it is an improvement on the general idea of making a sequel. The Island of Lost Dreams functions as an additional chapter of the first film and takes every step it should take toward creating its own mythology rather than dwelling in the past and regurgitating the original’s plot.
Instead, Spy Kids 2 brings back every major character from the last film in roles big and small to help Carmen and Juni Cortez (Vega and Darryl Sabara, respectively) rescue the top-secret Transmooker device, which is highly desired by evil forces and whose effects are pretty much unknown. As a result of their rescue effort, the Spy Kids search takes them to the Island of Lost Dreams, where the duo is met by a mad scientist (played appropriately by Steve Buscemi) and rival Spy Kids Gary and Gerti Giggles (Domestic Disturbance’s Matt O’ Leary and Emily Osment, sister of Haley Joel). Though the action isn’t nearly as breezy as the first film, the rivalry between the two sets of Spy Kids provides more than enough sparks to make the overall film highly enjoyable for kids.
Yet where the first Spy Kids 2 appealed to kids and adults, Spy Kids 2 seems less eager to please all audiences and more interested in the gasps, oohs and ahhs of the youngsters in the audience, which is where the attention should be. By no means is this a criticism, but those unaware of Harryhausen’s special effects work might find Spy Kids 2 unimpressive, while those who are familiar with him will get a (wink wink) kick out of Rodriguez’s homage. Austinites will also appreciate the end credits in which Vega sings “Isle of Dreams” to a packed house at Austin’s famed Paramount Theater as well as the knowledge that, with the exception of three shots in the entire film (which were filmed in Costa Rica), Spy Kids 2 is a completely homegrown product.
Putting the home field bias aside, Rodriguez has once again triumphed in creating a movie that’s sure to be burned into the memories of this generation of children forever and likely that of adults as well, who are looking for quality entertainment and will be eternally bugged for Carmen and Juni dolls. Spy Kids 2 isn’t at all the obligatory studio-manufactured sequel that many films this summer have turned out to be. And ultimately, it is more successful at every level imaginable because it’s a film that has its own identity. While there are no pronounced themes as powerful or even as meaningful as in the original Spy Kids, the film is an adventure from start to finish that takes a chance at having a better time and succeeds.
Check out the Texan interview with director Robert Rodriguez and the cast of Spy Kids 2 on Friday.