The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
“Everything that is or was began in a dream.”
So says Lavagirl, herself brought to molten life by the dreams of 10-year-old Max. Looking about Max’s age, she can shoot lava from her hands, and she instantly disintegrates anything she touches. Max concocted her up as a companion to his first creation, Sharkboy, who sports gills and shark-like powers after being raised by great whites.
With Max’s parents on the verge of splitting up, his dreams become so real to him that he gives a report in class on meeting Sharkboy and Lavagirl over his summer vacation. His classmates don’t bite. Led by bully Linus, they hurl insults, paper wads and threats of a schoolyard thrashing.
That all changes when the unlikely duo from Max’s dreams crash through the wall of his fourth-grade classroom to whisk him off on an adventure. With the command to don 3-D cardboard glasses, Max, Sharkboy and Lavagirl blast away in a rocket to save Planet Drool. For, you see, the world where Max’s dreams come to life is slowly going dark, sabotaged by the power-draining Mr. Electric and the mysterious Minus. Together, the trio must battle their way across the Passage of Time, ride the Train of Thought and sail the Stream of Consciousness to restore Max’s dreams before he loses them forever.
The film’s main message to kids is to “wake up and dream.” What that means, exactly, is a little nebulous, but Lavagirl does admit it sometimes takes hard work to turn dreams into reality. Max says he needs to “dream a better dream,” eventually realizing that he is only dreaming for himself and that “selfish dreams shouldn’t come true.” In that vein, Max, Sharkboy, Lavagirl and other characters all sacrifice themselves for the good of others.
Although they do battle in the dream world of Planet Drool, Max tries to understand his arch-enemy Minus and eventually forgives him, offering his hand in friendship. Minus is warned not to “smash people’s dreams.” Lavagirl praises Sharkboy for channeling his anger into something constructive. Max’s teacher thanks him for “awakening” in him the desire to be a better teacher. Though Max’s parents disagree and fight, they try to encourage Max and ultimately decide to stay together.
Max seems to be praying from his bed when he pleads to the ceiling, “Don’t make me have to go to school. May there be storms, sleet, tornadoes.” When the day dawns bright, he says, “Guess I didn’t dream hard enough.”
Distressed by her tendency to burn things up and the mystery surrounding her identity, Lavagirl asks Max why he made her the way he did. “Maybe I need to accept that I’m evil,” she says. By story’s end, she and Max understand that she’s not evil or destructive. Instead, she’s “light.”
Lavagirl is pretty with long red hair, and one boy jokes that she’s “hot.” Lavagirl kisses Sharkboy on the cheek with a sizzle; he says ouch, but smiles a goofy grin that shows he likes it.
Most of the violence in the film is too fantastical and cartoon-like to feel overly threatening, but there’s a lot of it. In the real world, Linus and his fourth-grade flunkies threaten Max on the playground, trying to steal his dream journal. Max falls hard on a rope ladder he is straddling, briefly injuring his crotch.
On the dreamscape of Planet Drool, children are locked onto a never-ending roller coaster. Max, Lavagirl and Sharkboy engage the bad guys with giant electrical plugs (“plughounds”) that zap and giant ice cube monsters that freeze. Sharkboy regularly threatens to hit Max, but he doesn’t. Lavagirl hits both boys in the backside with a little lava to get their attention.
Minus and Mr. Electric threaten the trio repeatedly. At one point, both Sharkboy and Lavagirl appear to be dead; he from an attack of electric eels, she from cold. The pun-spewing Mr. Electric (“Watt’s up?”) is attacked by his own eels. He manages to cross over into the real world and threaten the school as part of a tornado.
Crude or Profane Language
Rude comments typical of fourth-grade boys abound. Max’s imaginary pals are mocked as “Dork Boy,” “Barf Boy” and “Vomit Girl.” Someone talks about “blowing chunks,” and big yucks are found in the passing of gas. One character on Planet Drool literally has a “brain fart.” In a song, Sharkboy uses the word “bleep” as a substitute for an unknown swear word.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Max's too-sarcastic teacher is the bad guy in Max’s dream world. (Thankfully, the “real” Mr. E is redeemed and respected in the end.) There’s lots of sneezing, spitting and the like in the direction of the camera to try to take advantage of the 3-D effects.
It’s hard to imagine the director of the relentlessly vulgar and nauseatingly violent Sin City offering up a children’s movie so soon after dominating the box office with such a family unfriendly film. However, the only thing these two Robert Rodriguez movies have in common is that both were shot mostly in front of giant green screens and constructed digitally on computers.
In fact, the look and feel of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D has most in common with Rodriguez’s last kid flick, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. Namely, that it's mostly innocuous folly while at the same time becoming a serious test of patience for anyone over the legal driving age. Some kids’ movies are fun for the whole family. Some are just fun for the kids. And even the kids may be underwhelmed by the 3-D effects on display. Very little actually seems to “come at you.” Many of the 3-D segments appear to have only a little added depth and a lot less clarity. I was ready to get those glasses off long before the screen told me to.
That said, the values on display wind up in a mostly positive place. Messages that start with familiar and banal ideas like “kids need to dream” and “hold on to your dreams” eventually give way to meatier lessons that include “hard work makes dreams reality” and even “selfish dreams shouldn’t come true.” Enemies are forgiven. Parents are united. A teacher grows, earns respect and gives praise.
Rodriguez clearly had his family hat clamped firmly on his head while assembling the story he dreamed up with his 7-year-old son, Racer. The pair based it on games of “shark dad and shark boy” they played in their family pool. Dad told about.com, “It became this movie and I got really excited about that, [about] getting to work with my family on a movie for other families.”