2001’s Spy Kids marks a truly unnerving entry in the world of children’s entertainment. Spy Kids boasts ridiculous action, a lack of sentimentality, and a plot that's, to put it mildly, bonkers.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, the man behind Desperado and Sin City, the film's stuffed to the brim with monstrously terrifying characters. And the movie focuses on themes that feel slightly more adult than what you'd expect from a children’s film. This isn’t to say Spy Kids is bad. It moves at a pace other kids’ entertainment should emulate, and the film is inherently likable thanks to its off-the-wall visuals. But it's definitely weird.
Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid Cortez (Carla Gugino), the spy parents, seem to absolutely hate their lives. Before getting married, these two jet-set across the world and lived an exciting life. After their machine-gun wedding, they settle down, stop spying, and become consultants.
The couple no longer lives the life they loved. They barely speak, and the moment a mission is offered to them, they take it. Keep in mind, everyone else who's gone on this mission wound up dead. Seems like an odd thing to agree to if they're truly content with their lives.
The design of Spy Kids remains exceptionally weird. It's hard to know where to begin with dissecting its visual aesthetic. The interior sets are practical and painted different shades of orange and brown, while the world of Floop is a green-screen hellscape.
And it's not just the sets that are unsettling in Spy Kids - the character designs are equally as off-putting. The Thumb-Thumbs are disgusting, and after Alexander Minion (Tony Shalhoub) is "Flooped," he mutates and sprouts additional heads and hands.
The lyrics to the Danny Elfman-penned theme song to Floop's Fooglies offer a grim look into the heart of Floop - a man who sees his celebrity as both an escape from the mundanity of life and a prison from which he can't leave:
It's a cruel cruel world
All you little boys and girls
And some mean, nasty people
Want to have you for their supper
But if you follow me you can all be free
It's a part on a big TV
Floop walks the line between a man obsessed with his own celebrity and one who's truly afraid of others pursuing fame and coming up empty-handed. It's oddly earnest, but the background kills any chance of emotional connection.
Throughout the film, whenever some nasty business needs to be taken care of, the Thumb-Thumbs - a group of disgusting thumb-robot henchman - put on masks before committing their evil deeds. Aside from the obvious creep factor, there's something off about the Thumb-Thumbs wearing masks in the first place.
They don't have identities that need protecting, and they lack any distinguishing facial characteristics. In reality, the masks were probably a cost saving measure on Robert Rodriguez's part. But would it have been much more expensive to just replicate their thumb features?