Spy Kids is a 2001 family movie directed by Robert Rodriguez. It focuses on young siblings Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen Cortez (Alexa PenaVega), whose parents, Ingrid and Gregorio (played by Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas), are retired spies. After their parents are kidnapped, Juni and Carmen learn the truth about their family, and decide they must become spies like their parents in order to save them.
At the time, Rodriguez was known for making more adult-centered action films, and seemed an odd choice for a family movie. However, he brought his unique perspective to the movie, which was a massive success and made nearly five times its small, $35 million budget at the box office. It also received positive critical reviews, and led to three sequel movies, with a reboot currently in the works. Here’s why the fun family movie became so popular with audiences.
It’s Perfect for its Desired Audience – But is Entertaining for Adults Too
Spy Kids was a different kind of kids’ movie when it came out, and directly appealed to a younger audience. At the time of its release, most kids’ movies were animated, and the main spy movies were the James Bond films. While it was possible for a younger audience to enjoy them, they definitely were not geared towards kids. Spy Kids took all the coolness and gadgets of being a spy and addressed it directly to kids, making it fun and exciting. In addition, Carmen and Juni are normal kids; they don’t have any magical powers, and they aren’t royalty, like many characters in kids’ movies. Instead, they’re two average kids who get to become super spies, and it lets other kids feel like they were also super spies, saving the day.
While the movie is definitely meant to be enjoyed by kids, older audiences can still find some excitement in it. It has an absurd sense of humor, with sly adult jokes and clever ways of sneaking in swearing (like shiitake mushrooms) that adults will find enjoyable. It also has many actors that appeal to adults. Along with Gugino and Banderas, Alan Cumming is delightfully over-the-top as the villainous TV host Fegan Floop, who kidnaps Ingrid and Gregorio. In addition, all the movies feature cameos from major stars, with the first movie featuring Danny Trejo as Carmen and Juni’s uncle, and George Clooney as spy chief Devlin. The movie is still aimed at kids, and will delight them. But there’s enough enjoyment for adults as well, making it an accessible movie.
It Boasts Real Wonder and Imagination
A main feature of Spy Kids is how imaginative it is, especially in its visuals. A lot of the movie’s settings and designs look, as Looper says, like “a kid made a kid’s movie.” The OSS, which is the spy agency headquarters, is actually shaped like the agency letters, with the kids’ section built like a playground. Floop’s henchmen are called Thumb Thumbs, and really have thumbs for all their limbs, including their heads. Even the gadgets are colorful and kid-friendly, looking more like toys than the serious equipment found in adult spy films. It’s a unique take on the typical spy movie settings that really feels like a kid designed it, and will delight viewers.
All the details really establish the world of the movie, and let you fully enjoy all the imagination running free. The fun and interesting visuals, from the OSS building to the cool designs of Floop’s castle, make you view everything like a kid again. This fun world of color and action is not the world of a gritty, realistic spy movie, and it doesn’t need to be. Spy Kids really feels like it’s made by and for kids, and this imagination and wonder are part of what makes it so appealing and popular.
It Has Great Family Dynamics
Spy Kids has always been a family project for Rodriguez. The movie was inspired by his uncle’s work in the FBI, and he wanted to pay tribute to his family and celebrate their ancestry. Most notably, according to Indie Wire, Rodriguez fought to keep the Cortezes as a Latin family, even when studio executives were against it. The studio wanted a typical American family, and Rodrgiuez said that his family was American, and that Spy Kids would still be a universal family story. This is completely true, and the Cortezes’ Latin background is prominent, important representation, while still showing them as a typical family.
In addition, they have a great family dynamic. Carmen and Juni have a realistic sibling relationship, bickering and teasing but still coming together when they need to. They feel like real kids, making jokes and delighting in all the spy gadgets. Ingrid and Gregorio are strong and loving parents who have a healthy relationship with each other, and truly care about their kids. The Cortezes are the heart of the movie; a lovable family you want to watch as heroic spies. It’s easy to see the love the family has for each other, and they’re characters everyone can enjoy and relate to.
It’s been 20 years since the first Spy Kids movie was released, and the franchise still remains well-loved. The first movie establishes the most important parts of the franchise, and showed that this fun, family take on a spy movie could be a success. Its all-ages appeal, fun designs, and a strong family at its heart make Spy Kids immensely popular and enjoyable. It’s a memorable family movie that continues to delight all ages.