It’s been 15 years since the premiere of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D, Director Robert Rodriguez’s fantasy adventure kids’ film that was hyped as the movie event of 2005. It fell short of expectations, but Rodriguez clearly retained a deep love for this imaginary world—deep enough that he was keen to revisit it with the forthcoming Netflix standalone sequel, We Can Be Heroes. And yes, the original Lavagirl, Taylor Dooley, makes an appearance.
(Spoilers below for The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.)
Rodriguez is an impressively versatile director, from his early Western/action films El Mariachi (1992), Desperado (1995), and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), to the Spy Kids franchise and last year’s science fiction blockbuster, Alita: Battle Angel. After the success of 2003’s Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, Rodriguez pitched another immersive kids’ film, based on a story by his young son, Racer Max. It featured a young boy named Max, neglected by his parents and bullied at school, who creates an imaginary dream world in his journal, called Planet Drool. The inhabitants include Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner), son of a marine biologist, and Lavagirl (Dooley), who has a tendency to set things on fire—as well as “plughounds” and singing bubbles called LaLas. But when the school bully steals Max’s dream journal, those dreams start to bleed into reality.
The film received mostly negative reviews—it holds a dismal 19 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes—largely due to the bad 3D effects and storyline (it was the brainchild of a seven-year-old, after all). But The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl did manage to gross $72 million worldwide (double its budget), the visuals were impressive, and Lautner would go on to star in the Twilight franchise. (Due to scheduling conflicts, he was unable to appear in We Can Be Heroes.) Rodriguez also co-wrote a series of children’s novels based on the characters. And now he’s back in that world with We Can Be Heroes. Per the official premise:
When alien invaders kidnap Earth’s superheroes, their kids are whisked away to a government safe house. But whip-smart tween Missy Moreno (Yaya Gosselin) will stop at nothing to rescue her superhero dad, Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal). Missy teams up with the rest of the superkids to escape their mysterious government babysitter, Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). If they’re going to save their parents, they’ll have to work together by using their individual powers — from elasticity to time control to predicting the future — and form an out-of-this-world team.
The trailer opens with a voiceover by Missy lauding the Heroics, adult superheroes (like her dad, Marcus) who protect the world in an era of increasing uncertainty. But then aliens attack, and “this was the day our heroes fell.” Miracle Guy (Boyd Hollbrook), Tech-No (Christian Slater), Marcus, and the rest of the Heroics are captured, and Missy is whisked off to Heroics Headquarters for her protection, along with all the other super kids. They include Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), who can manipulate the flow of time, and Guppy (Vivien Lyra Blair), who is the child of Sharkboy and Lavagirl and inherited powers from both (“She’s got shark strength!”). With the aliens likely coming for them next, the assembled super kids, led by Missy, decide to band together to rescue their parents and save the planet.
We Can Be Heroes debuts on Netflix on December 25, 2020. Will it be better than its predecessor? Who knows? What critics like, and what children like, are often different. At least it’s not in 3D. And I’m sure parents of young children will be grateful to have some fresh, family-friendly holiday fare to amuse their pandemic-weary offspring.
Listing image by Netflix