- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Good news: Audiences and critics everywhere are hailing the arrival of Spy Kids as a clear sign that there are still exciting, entertaining family movies to be made. Critics are offering a slight caution to parents that the film includes "intense chases, moments of peril, deformed characters and action-related violence," but they qualify this as "cartoonish" and all in good fun. Who would have thought that the director of slick, violent films like Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn would come up with one of the most highly acclaimed all-ages movies in years?
The U.S. Catholic Conference calls Spy Kids "terrific" and raves, "Not only does Robert Rodriguez's flick synthesize a winning adventure story and cool special effects, it also underscores the importance of family." The Movie Reporter's Phil Boatwright says, "Although the kids argue throughout, they obviously love one another and learn the value of family." Focus on the Family is pleased to see "a loving, two-parent family that doesn't take itself for granted. The need for relational labor and personal sacrifice—and the conviction that it's worth every bit of the effort—resurfaces frequently. Spouses continue to share passion and friendship nearly a decade after saying 'I do.'" Holly McClure at The Dove Foundation is equally impressed: "I applaud the fact that the kids love and respect their parents, the parents aren't portrayed as idiots, and that family is the most important message and theme to the movie." Movieguide's Ted Baehr is also delighted: "Spy Kids has several positive messages and a moral worldview. The dialogue explicitly states that keeping a family together is the most challenging task of all." And Michael Elliot of Movie Parables piles on the kudos: "Granted, the plot description makes the film sound silly and even a little cheesy, but the high production quality, witty writing, accomplished direction, and winning performances make Spy Kids the most enjoyable family film experience to be released in the past year."
Mainstream critics are attentive to just what it is that makes this movie work. At Salon.com, Stephanie Zacharek argues that the film portrays a story in which "children get to be the adults; freed from parental restrictions, they get the chance to go off and save the day with their own ingenuity and smarts. But beyond that, it's also a story about parents' finding their own independence in the context of raising their kids. The movie's message—that families are stronger when they allow for both parents' and kids' independence and breathing room—is refreshingly subtle and sophisticated." Entertainment Weekly gives special note to costar Alan Cumming, who plays the villain. "Cumming, whose dimples are practically an extra facial feature, is like the world's naughtiest elf, with the rare gift of acting innocent and demonic, joyous and petulant, all at the same time."
Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times notes the film's complete avoidance of gun-related violence, and is happy to see its focus on Latino characters. "Spy Kids," he concludes, "is an intelligent, upbeat, happy movie that is not about the comedy of embarrassment, that does not have anybody rolling around in dog poop, that would rather find out what it can accomplish than what it can get away with. It's a treasure."
Looking to take your kids' minds off of Pokémon? Spy Kids is still the number one movie in America. One of the year's most acclaimed films so far, and one of the highest-rated family entertainments since Toy Story 2, the movie follows the adventures of the spooky Cortez family. Mom and Dad are secret agents who get taken hostage by a strange kids-TV personality named Floop, who resembles Pee-Wee Herman. When the bad guys come back for the kids, they find more than they bargained for, as the kids take up the family business and show a flair for James Bond gadgetry.
The staff at CultureWatch.net observe some unusual and inspiring themes in the film: "The Cortez family is trying to stay together, despite all the potential roadblocks of typical American life. With two children and two parents, they seem to be … as typical as a family with two international spies for parents can be. They face the issues that all families face today in trying to keep a family together. The kids struggle with not wanting their parents to know the truth about their school and social life. Meanwhile, the parents themselves struggle with juggling job responsibilities with their parenting responsibilities."
I caught up with Spy Kids this week myself—my full review is at Looking Closer. The matinee was as commercial and fun as a Happy Meal and probably healthier. The movie has its clever moments, and its cast is winningly enthusiastic. But I think it leans a little bit too heavily on the movies from which it liberally borrows, even though it does so with a wink. Movie buffs will be reminded of a wide range of films, from The Princess Bride to Men in Black, with echoes of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and, for the movie geeks, The City of Lost Children. Peter T. Chattaway also finds something lacking in the film. "There is a lot of action in Spy Kids, as one might expect from a Rodriguez film," he says in his Vancouver Courier review, "but no real sense of danger. There is also very little character development, beyond what is required to keep the story going or to make obvious points about families sticking together and family being the biggest adventure of all." But he does approve of the film for family viewing. "It's encouraging to see that a film with such mainstream ambitions makes no effort to hide its ethnic roots. One gets the impression that Rodriguez made this film for his own family, first of all; luckily, the rest of us should at least get a kick out of it, too."