Family secrets. They’re about as common as cheek-pinching second aunts commenting, "Look how BIG you’ve grown!" But the Cortez family secret is in a class by itself. It seems Gregorio and Carla were spies from opposite sides of the world sent to kill each other, only to fall madly in love, marry, retire and have two children. Twelve-year-old Carmen is a girl struggling with the new demands of adolescence. Her younger brother, Juni, gets picked on at school and battles with anxiety that manifests itself in outbreaks of warts. Neither of the kids knows of their parents’ adventurous past. To Carmen and Juni, they’re just another uncool suburban couple into conservative haircuts, whiter whites, carpooling and grousing about dirty clothes landing on the floor instead of in the hamper. But that’s about to change. A little espionage-related consulting by Gregorio turns into a full-blown mission for him and Carla. Problem is, they get captured by evil genius and surreal children’s TV host Fegan Floop and his devilish associate, Alexander Minion. They’re in the middle of a business deal that involves supplying megalomaniacs with synthetically produced armies of child automatons. Carmen and Juni become targets in Floop’s search for an essential piece of technology. They’re also Mom and Dad’s only hope for survival.
positive elements: Early on, Carla tells Carmen a favorite "fairy tale" about two spies who fall in love. Sprinkled throughout the story are statements affirming the institution of marriage as a complex mission in its own right that requires great courage and strength. It is presented as a worthwhile adventure that involves both romance and commitment. Although Carmen and Juni bicker like most brothers and sisters do, they rally to work as a team and develop a respect for one another’s differences. Carmen encourages Juni, telling him how smart and strong he is. Adults will enjoy Floop’s self-deprecating jabs at the juggernaut of trendy kids TV (when Minion tries to turn Floop’s attention from banter about his show to their "grand diabolical plan," Floop assumes he’s talking about syndication).
Even when Mom and Dad excitedly embark on their new mission, their thoughts are with their offspring. Hearing an estranged uncle echo her own complaints about having to care for a younger sibling, Carmen realizes how selfish she has been (she wisely says of radical independence, "But that’s not what family is"). The uncle and his brother, Gregorio, make amends. A deposed Floop realizes the error of his ways and decides he needs to ask his fans for forgiveness. He and the Cortez kids point to a distinct difference between "right" and "wrong," and turn an evil army of child robots into a fleet of do-gooders. At the end, Floop tells Juni (an avid fan of the entertainer’s TV show) that the boy’s success against the bad guys wasn’t due to strength, "but because you are pure of heart and of mind." Carmen admits to her mother that, although she had formerly wished she could break away from the family, she no longer feels that way. The need for honesty and open communication in the home is a point made on several occasions. Just before the closing credits roll, Carmen wraps things up with the line, "Spy work; that’s easy. Keeping a family together; that’s difficult. And that’s a mission worth fighting for." Amen!
spiritual content: Gregorio and Carla have a religious wedding. The kids’ uncle Machete alludes to Cain and Abel as being a brotherly combo that didn’t work out so well.
sexual content: None.
violent content: Quite a bit, though there are no fatalities. People get banged around in fistfights, struck in the head with objects, stunned by electricity, thrown through windows and dropped from heights. A diabolical atom-scrambler mutates agents into goofy characters for Floop’s bizarre Teletubby-like TV show (we learn that the process is reversible). A woman has most of her hair burned off by a runaway jet-pack. A bunch of thugs who are literally "all thumbs" invades the Cortez home and pursues the children.
crude or profane language: One reference to "poop," another to urination. A few exclamations of "oh my god." The most unnecessary moment, however, is when Carmen finds herself facing a desperate situation and utters, "Oh, shiitake mushrooms" with a pause strategically placed in shiitake.
drug and alcohol content: Gregorio and Carla sip wine.
conclusion: The makers of Spy Kids have invested a considerable amount of money and creative energy. That’s refreshing since live-action "family fare" usually gets a studio’s table scraps. Rodriguez’s intelligent, thrill-a-minute script is (with rare exceptions) kid-friendly, yet adults should enjoy it too. It features a stylish mix of James Bond intrigue and gadgetry, plus impressive visual effects and the most psychedelic evil genius with a soft spot for kids since Willie Wonka. Even better than the eye-popping art direction and non-stop action is the movie’s heart. The Cortez clan is a loving, two-parent family that doesn’t take itself for granted. The need for relational labor and personal sacrifice—and the conviction that it’s worth every bit of the effort—resurfaces frequently. Spouses continue to share passion and friendship long after saying "I do." Siblings develop mutual admiration. There’s a sense of well-ordered priorities here. Intense chases, moments of peril, deformed characters and action-related violence may disturb young children, but for older ones there’s a lot to like about Spy Kids.