Robert Rodriguez is certainly one of the most interesting directors I’ve come across. He started his career in Hollywood without much money but made up for it by doing most of the work on set by himself, such as cinematography and special effects. Rodriguez gained mainstream success with films such as From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City and gained a larger following with the classic Spy Kids film franchise. But somewhere along the way, Rodriguez’s films began to deteriorate in visual quality, as evidenced by the third Spy Kids film. However, none quite reach new lows as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, or simply Sharkboy and Lavagirl!
Max is a ten year old boy who is bullied at school by both his teacher Mr. Electricidad (played by George Lopez) and playground bully Linus. Meanwhile, his home life isn’t much better with his parents constantly arguing and planning a divorce. To cope with his problems in the real world, Max dreams of being on a planet called Planet Drool where he befriends two characters named Sharkboy (played by Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (played by Taylor Dooley). Max records his adventures in his dream journal until one day, it’s stolen by Linus. A tornado appears and then Sharkboy and Lavagirl suddenly appear in front of Max and tell him to help them restore balance to the dream world.
Let me preface by saying that Robert Rodriguez was inspired to make this film by his son’s dreams. While this is a bold form of inspiration, I think that Rodriguez may have taken the dreams a little too literally. First off, who names a planet named Drool? I understand this is a kid’s dream, but was there no other creativity involved? Max dreams of both Mr. Electricidad (which is just Spanish for electricity) as the villain Mr. Electric and Linus as Minus: the dark ruler of dreams. Both villain aliases are clever puns of their names, but then he just names the planet Drool? To make this worse, there’s a land on this planet called the “Land of Milk and Cookies.” You really couldn’t think of a more original name? Was there no one else involved on the project who thought this was a ludicrous idea?
Now let me talk about the special effects. To call them special effects is an insult to all VFX artists in Hollywood because these effects are among some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a film! Sharkboy and Lavagirl advertises itself as a film in 3D. And boy, it really shoves that fact in your face. While 3D was used as a method to fully immerse the audience in a story, for example, James Cameron’s Avatar, this movie uses it just to scream out that it’s in 3D. If Guillermo Del Toro’s visuals are eye protein, then this is easily eye diarrhea. The effects in this film are so bad that not only does it take you completely out of the film, but it also scars you. For example, several scenes actually gave me nightmares and for a second I was wondering if I were watching a horror film rather than a family film!
To complement the horrendous effects, the acting really isn’t that much better. Most of the delivery is either deadpan or extremely exaggerated. Both Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley just have no idea what’s going on (I mean, how can you when you’re in this movie?). Dooley smiles so much in this movie, it’s almost as if someone told her that she would be fired if she stopped. Lautner, on the other hand, just looks angry the majority of the time. Meanwhile, both George Lopez and Jacob Davich as Linus are easily having the most fun with the film, almost as if they didn’t care in the slightest and ham up their performances to the nth degree. I love how much of a cartoon villain Linus (and Minus) is portrayed as, and it made the movie more enjoyable (and bearable) for me.
Although I lambasted the movie for its plot execution and nightmare-inducing visuals, I do have to say, I think the core message of the film is actually important. Throughout the film, Max reveals his biggest fear is his parents separating, which is reflected in his dreams. Max’s biggest wish is for them to remain together. While this is a noble idea that many kids with parents on the verge of divorce can relate to, said execution of the idea is beyond poor and I felt the focus of dreaming a better dream was drowned out by everything else going on.
Sharkboy and Lavagirl grossed $72 million on a budget of $50 million at the box office. While the film was a flop, a soft sequel was made in 2020 called We Can Be Heroes. The film had Sharkboy and Lavagirl grown up and married to one another with children who had superpowers. Taylor Dooley reprised her role of Lavagirl, but Taylor Lautner did not return as Sharkboy (I wonder why?). We Can Be Heroes was a rather…interesting film that centered around the kids of various superheroes as they learn how to properly utilize their powers. The film received mostly positive reception and Robert Rodriguez announced a sequel in 2021.
Overall, while I understand that this is a kid’s film, I can’t help but criticize it for its poor direction, visual effects and backwards storytelling. I feel like this could’ve been a really good film that introduces heavy real life themes in a kid’s story, along the lines of The NeverEnding Story. The theme of divorce and working hard to make your dream a reality is a solid idea, but the execution is so muddied that I almost forgot the message of the film! Robert Rodriguez is an exceptional director who has made a comeback through directing episodes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, but I think he should stick to only directing and have others help with the visuals, camera work and score composition. With that said, do not watch Sharkboy and Lavagirl unless you want to experience what being on acid is like.