Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams Review

There has always been an element of childish glee in the work of Robert Rodriguez, whether its the relish he takes in blowing things up or the fact that he takes responsibility for so many elements of the films’ production, seeing them as the biggest toy set in the world (in this case, as well as directing, he also writes, produces and acts as director of photography and co-composer). With this in mind it’s less surprising that Spy Kids turned out to be Rodriguez’s finest film to date.

Spy Kids 2 picks up where the first film left off. Having become fully-fledged spy kids, our brother and sister duo (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) now face competition from another young pair of agents, Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O’Leary and Emily Osment). Moreover, their father, Donnagon (Mike Judge) has infiltrated his way to the top of the OSS and is planning to take over the world with a “transmooker” device, created by nerdy scientist Romero (Steve Buscemi) who resides on the eponymous island hidden from the rest of the world. Of course, the device is simply a macguffin, the film’s true raison d’etre is its welter of CGI and sibling rivalry gags.

As before, this latter element is handled well by the two junior leads. As evinced in his short film Bedhead and segment of indie anthology flick Four Rooms, Rodriguez has a real talent for directing children, though it appears here that he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Apart from Sabara and Vega (who genuinely seem to be brother and sister), the rest of the juvenile cast seem to be too much like actors rather than children, though luckily their screen time is restricted in comparison to the main stars.

Whilst it is understandable that Rodriguez has decided to concentrate his efforts on the youthful element of his cast, it’s sadly detrimental to the more experienced players. Since, arguable, Disney’s Aladdin it has been common place practice for the makers of children’s films to make an attempt to connect with the accompanying adult (The Emperor’s New Groove and the Pixar films being perfect examples), and it is readily apparent that Rodriguez has manned his supporting cast with the likes of Tony Shalhoub and Ricardo Montalban for this very purpose. Unfortunately, many of these roles are limited to one-scene cameos, though Antonio Banderas (as the spy kids’ father) does a wicked send-up of the Latino macho stereotype with arguably his best work since his Pedro Almodovar days, and Bill Paxton is pure redneck charm as a theme park owner.

Despite this, Rodriguez still has a few tricks up his sleeve: the CGI, for example, is marvellous, from Paxton’s pre-credits theme park to the cross-species inhabitants of Buscemi’s island. Indeed, it is the eponymous setting for much of the action which allows the director to provide Spy Kids 2’s principle pleasure: an extended homage to his childhood hero Ray Harryhausen (who also receives a special thanks in the end credits). Of course, Harryhausen himself worked on a film entitled Mysterious Island, though the most obvious touchstones here are his Sinbad movies (all that perpetual sunlight and monsters around every corner) and, unsurprisingly, Jason and the Argonauts with its sword-wielding skeletons.

The only sore point during this element is Steve Buscemi. Considering that in the past he has proved himself capable of doing fine work in such mainstream efforts as Con Air and Armageddon, as well as cultier titles such as Fargo and Trees Lounge, Buscemi is particularly disappointing here. Moreover, the problem doesn’t reside in the writing either; giving the chance to play a cross between Dr. Moreau and John Hammond (Richard Attenborough’s Jurassic Park character) surely he should have produced something with a little more character, rather than the bundle of cliches present here.

And yet despite these flaws (and it should also be noted that much of the comedy is aimed solely at the pre-teen audience) Spy Kids 2 still proves to be a hugely enjoyable entertainment. Moreover, it’s much more fun than the overly earnest Harry Potter movies (and almost half their length) and provides a far superior James Bond alternative than the braindead likes of xXx.

The Disc

Picture and Sound

Shot using high definition digital camera (the same as Attack of the Clones), I would presume that this is a direct transfer judging by its perfect quality. Of course, when a tranfer is this good it can show up some of the shoddier elements of the CGI, but that's a minor complaint, and hardly the fault of Buena Vista.

Likewise the 5.1 audio is crystal clear, though surprisingly doesn't utilise the surround channels too often. However, the sound effects come off well and the dialogue is persistently audible.

Special Features

Presumably making up for their bare-bones release of the first Spy Kids film, Buena Vista offer a huge amount of extras here. A mixed bag, for the most part these are aimed at the younger crowd: an educational featurette about one of the film's locations; an interactive multiple choice quiz; and a few featurettes following the young cast. Sadly, because of the target audience, few revelations are made - apart from everything being either "cool" or "awesome", of course.

Two extras do stand-out however: Roriguez's "Ten Minute Film School" featurette and his commentary. A quick talker, the director is obviously enthusiastic about his subject, and remarkably honest. He talks candidly about his adopting numerous roles in the production, primarily to cut costs, but also because he had little experience and wanted to learn. It is this latter element that also allows Rodriguez to treat the listeners as students: he extols the virtues of creativity (which he places higher than technical achievements) and filming digitally, urging those listening to go out and make their own movies, no matter how apprehensive they may be.

Admittedly, there is a little overlap between these two extras, though Rodriguez's sheer passion for what he's speaking about (he often gets too involved in the moment and has to go back and speak about a specific scene minutes after it has finished) means this is a minor fault, and one wishes he would go back and do a similar job on the first Spy Kids film.

Also worth a brief mention are the eight deleted scenes. Again, a commentary by Rodriguez is offered, and he proves adept at providing their context and reason of excision. Rodriguez has also included a number of his own storyboards, yet another task he took upon himself.

Unfortunately, no subtitles are provided for any of the extras (the packaging is slightly misleading in this case, stating "the extras may not feature subtitles").

Conclusion

A little charm of a film, the entertainment value allows many of its flaws to be overlooked (especially when one hears Rodriguez admit them in his commentary). Plus, with a near perfect transfer and some worthwhile extras, this is worthy of spending a few bob on.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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