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Our review of Spy Kids, published July 29th, 2002, is also available.
Real spies, only smaller…
As one of the most efficient filmmakers working in the industry today, Robert Rodriguez has developed a brilliant formula that allows him to generate cheap movies that usually go on to turn a substantial profit at the box office. The key to his success: he pretty much does it all by himself. His Spy Kids franchise is a prime example of how this man operates in his field, because not only did he write and direct the popular family adventures, but he also took charge of editing the films, composing the music and the supervising the visual effects department. Talk about a rebel without a crew. It's already been ten years since the first Spy Kids hit theaters. To celebrate the anniversary, Lionsgate has decided to finally release the trilogy on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro) and Carla Gugino (Race to Witch Mountain) star as Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez, two veteran spies who once decided to leave their dangerous profession behind to finally settle down and raise a family. Nine years and two children later, the Cortez team is suddenly called back into action to investigate the disappearance of several secret agents, and while they're both happy to be back in the game, their state of excitement quickly fades when they're kidnapped by a villain eager to take over the world. With time running out, the only ones the Cortezes can count on are their kids Carmen (Alexa Vega, Repo! The Genetic Opera) and Juni (Daryl Sabara, Machete), who are catapulted into a new world in which they must utilize their skills to become overnight spies and rescue their parents.
The first installment in the action-packed Spy Kids series quickly found an audience and even scored pretty high with critics, and the immediate success of the film stems primarily from its highly entertaining plot stuffed with over-the-top goofiness. Buying into all the crazy gadgets, odd characters and mediocre special effects may not be that easy for everyone, but at the end of the day, it's hard to resist the vast amount of energy and countless action dictating most of the flick's 91-minute running time. Although by no means a masterpiece in the genre of family friendly adventures, Spy Kids simply offers viewers a darn good time, all while making sure to convey the standard message that, yes, family is indeed the most important thing in life.
Sure, Spy Kids has a number of cheesy moments, but the freshness of the film's concept and the stakes of Juni and Carmen's mission to get acquainted with superb gadgets and rescue their parents from evil keep the story engaging throughout. Truth be told, Rodriguez's ability to create magical worlds and throw a series of thrilling challenges at his spy kids gives younger viewers plenty of reasons to completely lose themselves in the movie and keep cheering for the heroes. Even I admit I was pretty stoked watching Juni and Carmen save the world when I saw this film on the big screen for the first time. It's very easy to enjoy these movies, despite their undeniable silliness.
Casting this kind of family flick can be a tricky, but Rodriguez lined up an excellent group of actors. Alex Vega and Daryl Sabara play convincing siblings and manage to inject their roles with tons of energy, which instantly transforms them into likable characters. Luckily enough, Rodriguez gave them some great dialogue to work with, and they never come across as annoying brats acting like they already know it all. Banderas and Gugino couldn't be more perfect as the set of parent spies who can't let go of their line of work. Extra spice is added by supporting performances by Alan Cumming as the evil Fegan Floop, Tony Shalhoub as his sidekick Minion, Cheech Marin as Uncle Felix, and, of course, Danny Trejo as Machete, maker of all the incredible gadgets the kids get to play with.
Visually, Spy Kids is one crazy experience. While some of the decor, costumes, and effects look pretty ridiculous, the overall production design benefits from strong colors and imaginative structures that add another interesting layer to an already appealing children's adventure. Some of the many computer-generated effects could have been touched up a little, but as long as we're talking about youngsters being the target audience, I'm willing to look past those flaws without letting them distract me too much. Rodriguez keeps the focus on the kids, and that's what really counts.
In high-definition, the movie looks good. I wish I could say it looks stunning, but it doesn't. The Blu-ray disc offers a very decent 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. While the colors appear strong, the image quality occasionally suffers from a considerable amount of grain. Nothing major, but it definitely sticks out every once in a while. Things are all golden in the audio department, though, with the clean, sharp 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track properly balancing dialogue, music, and sound effects.
A few words about the bonus section on the disc. The special features include an informative 48-minute featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the three Spy Kids movies and boasts a pretty interesting discussion between Robert Rodriguez, Alexa Vega, and Daryl Sabara as they live and breathe today. Recorded more recently and mixed in with older footage from the set, this elaborate session covers anything from casting to shooting and all the way to the box-office success of the trilogy. Also featured on the disc is Rodriguez's "Ten-Minute Film School," a segment during which he discusses the creation of the visual effects in the first film. He then moves on to teach viewers how to make a grilled cheese sandwich Texas-style in "Ten-Minute Cooking School," and he wraps up with two smaller featurettes focusing on the makeup effects and stunts in Spy Kids. The Blu-ray edition also boasts a digital copy of the feature on a second disc.
Spy Kids remains a wild ride children and parents have grown to love. Finally having these films available in high-definition is reason enough to revisit the bold adventures of Carmen and Juni and rediscover your inner spy.
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