by Jonathan S. Walker
Spy Kids takes the James Bond-type spy films and turns them upside down. It reverses the thematic elements that they use: individualism over the group, deception over trust, courage over doubt, and sex over relationship. As a result, Spy Kids entertains both children and adults with its creativity and wholesome ideas.
Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) were international spies who fell in love and married. They left the spy business in favor of raising a family. Ten years later, they are drawn back in. The evil mastermind Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming)-the host of a children’s television show-has a diabolical plan which will undermine the nations of the world (superlative adjectives are essential in discussing the spy genre-you can never have too many of them). For all their good intentions, the Cortezes are a little rusty and Floop captures them immediately. Their kids, Carmen and Juni (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) stumble into the knowledge of their parents’ former life and come to the rescue.
At the beginning of the film, Ingrid tells her children a fantastical story of two spies who fell in love. Through the story, she sets the framework for the film’s theme. “They fell in love and they decided that together they would embark on the most dangerous mission of all time”: Marriage.
In Ingrid’s (autobiographical) story, the spies accept the “mission” with both eyes open. “Marriage is a mission so complex that only the most courageous-and slightly insane-need apply. There is such an amazing series of obstacles one has to navigate to keep a marriage together, much less a family, that it even frightened” this hardened international spy. As she points out, a marriage starts out with the “two most dangerous and trusting words you can say to anyone:’I do.'” Carmen protests the end of the story, “No ‘happily ever after?'” Ingrid understands marriage and simply replies, “Well, I said they were better off.”
In the last line of the film, Carmen tells us what we should take away from the film, “Spy work, that’s easy, keeping a family together, that’s difficult. And that’s a mission worth fighting for.” Fighting for the success of their family is exactly what the Cortezes do and in doing so they undertake a great adventure.
Spy Kids is not just a kids’ fantasy, it’s an adults’ tongue-in-cheek look at the absurdity of the James Bond-style of action-adventure. The spy genre is overblown ridiculousness. The best portrayal of Spy Kids’ theme comes in direct contrast to the traditional spy genre of films. Kids becomes a response to the James Bond films, not just a satirical look at them. Bond films are amoral and anti-family: the individual comes above all, success (not means) is paramount, and relationships are a form of deception without emotional fulfilment.
Individual vs. Group
While the spy genre is about going it alone and overcoming the odds, Spy Kids is about pulling together as a family. At the beginning, Carmen complains about having to be responsible for Juni. After all, “I shouldn’t have to be responsible for anybody but myself.” Carmen breaks away from the selfishness, though. She learns to help Juni and accept help from him. She gives him encouragement when he needs it most. “Don’t listen to her; you’re not worthless-you’re strong.” Then, when he’s emboldened too much and punches a concrete wall, she says with sensitivity, “You’re not that strong, Juni.”
Secrets and Lies vs. Truth and Trust
When you’re an international spy, you live and die by the secrets you keep from others and mete out lies to support you in your intrigue. Living in a family is different. Ingrid understands that hiding things from your family jeopardizes the integrity of the group. Without being able to confide in each other, members cannot provide support and people can needlessly stumble into pitfalls.
Childless World of Childish Adults
The James Bond genre is nothing more than fantasies in the unchecked mind of a teenage boy. The gadgets, the sexual charge, the action without impunity, the praise of antisocial behavior all represent the immature mind. Spy Kids makes the opposite assertion: that children can act maturely. They can make a difference. The weak and scared Juni saves Floop from being a person he does not want to be. He also wisely tells Floop what his children’s show lacks: children.
Floop sees Carmen and Juni as the Cortez’s only two weaknesses. By the end of the adventure, Gregorio sees things differently, “We didn’t do one thing right. We did two things right.” In the light of worldly failures, nothing warms a parent’s heart like the glow of raising children right.
As adults, we can continue playing the childish game of thinking that we can affect the world with our savage individualism and dynamic personalities or we can really change the world by making a difference in a child’s life. After all, it’s a bit of an exaggeration (as it was in the film), but “once they’re programmed, nothing on earth can stop them.” …Better make certain they’re “programmed” to do what is right.
Courage in the Face of Physical Danger
When doom is imminent, a spy cooly calculates escape. Ingrid identifies how courage can be a daily trait. Real courage is needed in doing the little things day after day, year after year, for a lifetime to keep a marriage (and family) together. Being needed by his parents and support from his sister cure Juni’s warts more than overcoming the challenge of international espionage. Carmen comes to understand how much her family can mean to her when her mother asks her whether she wants to be “free from your family.” She says, “Not anymore.”
Sometimes, we view protecting our family as a defensive operation. We think about the many things that “invade” or “attack” the peace in our homes: media, materialism, peer pressure, demands on our time, or any number of a thousand other things. But, like good espionage, keeping a family together is an offensive strategy. Family home evening, scripture reading and prayer, quality family time, and actively building relationships of trust are only done by decisive action.
Keeping your family together is a “mission worth fighting for,” just ask the Cortezes.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.