Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002)

spykids2After a raid by armed soldiers during a party with the world’s top agents and their kids, Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara), the youngest of the Cortez spy family is accused of stealing the high powered super weapon The Transmooker Device. Now Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez must travel to the island of lost dreams and face off against monsters, soldiers, and rival agents Girti (Emily Osment) and Gary Giggles and find the real transmooker device before the evil Donnagon (Mike Judge) gets a hold of it and prove Juni’s innocence. But their parents and meddlesome grandparents are on the hunt for the kids before they’re killed. I tend to easily grow tired of family movies if they’re either too hokey or corny; most of the time, they’re both.

“Spy Kids” for some reason isn’t the case; I really enjoyed the first film and I tended to enjoy this film even more. Why is that? Possibly because of Robert Rodriguez, he is an incredibly underrated director who has yet to make it in the mainstream, but still manages to create a movie that becomes faceted for both adults and kids alike. What Rodriguez does is create a kids movie that doesn’t talk down to the audience and insult their intelligence yet makes it intelligible enough for kids to understand and for adults to approve of. He also does something that directors rarely ever do: he has movies where a large portion of his cast is played by Hispanic actors. His films tend to have a sentimentality that displays his affection for his projects, and it’s easy to see why most of his films are so good. “Spy Kids 2” is a pretty non-violent movie looking for other ways to have characters battle, and when the characters do fight, it’s humorous enough so the parents won’t raise a brow at the content.

Rodriguez offers some amusing and charming fight scenes including when Gregorio and Donnagon duke it out on the beach, and when Carmen hurls spoons at the soldiers apart from knives. What’s scary is that these movies have to depend on performances by the child actors, and most of the time, child actors can’t deliver. Emily Osment is pretty substandard as the villain Girty Giggles who most of the time can’t deliver her lines with much enthusiasm. Taylor Momsem gives another pretty mediocre role as the president’s daughter who is barely in the film, and when she is, is never believable or likable. The audience is led to believe that the movie is supposed to not only focus on the kids, but on the parents looking for the kids while coping with the meddlesome in-laws who are the parents of the mother Ingrid Cortez, but we’re never given enough screwball antics with the grandparents.

We only get very few glimpses of the quirky grandparents and it’s a shame because Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor are so good together, especially when they’re irritating Antonio Banderas’ character. It was very funny watching Holland Taylor get on Banderas’ characters nerves, especially when he’s steering their underwater ship and she’s questioning him about his discipline with his kids. Rodriguez under-uses them to the point where it’s almost criminal, because Ricardo Montalban is hilarious as the grandfather. Spending equal time between the adults and the kids could have helped the movie be more faceted towards a wider general audience. Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega give good performances as the Cortez kids and become more natural in their characters in this film than they were in the first. Matt O’Leary who gave a great performance in “Frailty” is really good in this film as the villainous and conflicted love interest to Carmen, Gary. I really enjoyed the running gag with his feminine laugh that’s touched on throughout the film.

There’s a lot of great actors in the movie who provide small roles and great cameos including Bill Paxton who plays an amusement park owner, and Steve Buscemi who gives a eccentric role as the scientist Romero, to name a few. There is easily a lot of inspiration evident in the material in this film including the monsters created by Romero who look a lot like the monsters from the old Ray Harryhausen movies. There’s even a nice sequence in which the kids fight off sword slinging live skeletons ala “Sinbad” after Juni steals a gold necklace. A lot of the monsters closely resemble creatures from the past Harryhausen classics including the cool Spider-Monkey who is in a large portion of the movie. There are also the Gidra who serve as hilarious running gags as they pop out of the water whenever someone gets out of their ships. There are a lot of very subtle references and homage to many classic films like “Indiana Jones” that Rodriguez sneaks in bits of the adventure with the kids. The film is charming and bright and a lot of fun without being corny or hokey. The first film was average in its story and context, but Rodriguez tends to learn from his mistakes and made a truly superior film to the first.