Sharkboy and Lavagirl
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D 2005
I’m continuing on in this month of kid’s superhero movies with probably the biggest one on the list in terms of the amount of people who are aware of this film, even though it’s not exactly thought of as a great movie. The story behind the film is that writer/producer/director/composer/all-around-filmmaker Robert Rodriguez decided that he wanted to make a film for his kids, specifically that he wanted to bring the characters created by his son Racer to life in this film. In fact, Racer even gets an official “Story by” credit in the film and the main character is named after Racer’s middle name. And as for the general conceit of this film, I’m generally a big fan of these types of dream worlds or fantasy worlds along the lines of Wonderland, Oz, and the like, but for many reasons I just didn’t care for this one at all. While it’s a nice legacy for Racer to have this physical incarnation of a story he thought up when he was around 6, it just doesn’t hold up as a very cohesive film.
Like with many of these types of films, the main character Max is a dreamer to the extreme. He’s the awkward kid in school that everybody makes fun of when he reads out his very fictional story about meeting Sharkboy and Lavagirl over summer vacation except for the one nice girl who also happens to be the daughter of the teacher. Even though the actress looks nothing at all like George Lopez to the point of barely looking Hispanic aside from a very unnatural tan. The same can be said about how different young Sharkboy looks from the slightly older Taylor Lautner Sharkboy which also comes back to Robert Rodriguez bringing his kids into the film. Back to the film itself, Max has these extremely vivid dreams about Sharkboy and Lavagirl that seem to start making their way into his real life via a very Wizard of Oz style tornado that rips through the school and brings Max away from Earth and off to his dreamworld of Planet Drool.
Similar to other dreamland and fantasyland stories, there are several parallels between the real world and the dream world aside from the two heroes of the story. The problem with many of these are that they are very underdeveloped and the connection doesn’t feel very genuine. Max’s teacher Mr. Electricidad seems to be a very supportive and friendly character towards Max aside from his insistence that he needs to stop dreaming so much. He tells Max that he needs to make friends and punishes the bully Linus for making fun of Max through his own story. But in the dream world he becomes the evil Mr. Electricity with an army of outlet plugs who keeps kids awake so they can’t dream. It does help a little that he also becomes the voice of Tobor the robot who Max created as a source of knowledge. There’s also a weird thread where his parents seem to be in a slight bit of marital trouble, but within the real world it’s only seen by the fact that his father played by David Arquette is a failed writer, or as one could put it: he is also a dreamer just like Max. But that connection is never explicitly made during the movie, instead there’s just a tiny bit of distance hinted at during the opening scene, and when Max sees them represented in his dream world in a very short scene where they are together as milk and cookie giants, he comments that they look happy together. In order to help make those sorts of connections, there needed to be more development of those characters within the real world so that when they come together it creates a stronger sense of connection. The only good element of this entire connection was the reveal of Linus as the one controlling Mr. Electricity, and also the one corrupting Max’s dreamworld just as the real Linus had drawn all over Max’s dream journal.
What often helps sell these types of films is the look and feel of the fantasy world that the main character comes to. With Sharkboy and Lavagirl, that’s just not the case by any means. There is plenty of CGI landscapes that look very much like the low budget versions of a Playstation 2 era video game where everything has sloppy textures and looks like a bubbling mass of neon colored gunk. They travel from one sloppy mess to another, with the occasional detour into a mildly acceptable looking land of milk and cookies as well as a halfway decent ice landscape. What did work better were some of the costumes, as the look of Sharkboy and Lavagirl themselves work quite well aside from the odd choice to have Lavagirl be hot pink rather than the dark orange/red much more often associated with molten hot magma. What did work much better was the great looking line of magma going down the center of Lavagirl’s costume and glowed throughout most of the movie. Sharkboy’s outfit was a bit more basic, but it got the point across well enough.
Throughout the movie, it was a little tough to figure out the motivations for everyone. Max himself wanted to escape the reality of his real life where he lives across the street from the school (in one of the best gags of the movie), but Sharkboy and Lavagirl both seem to be aware that they were created from Max’s dreams and what they want more than anything else is essentially for Max to flesh out their backstories better. Lavagirl has the pseudo-tragic motivation where she doesn’t know whether or not she is a good guy or a bad guy since her powers are so destructive. She just wants to know where she came from. But there’s also this encroaching threat of the darkness that they mention at the start of their trip to Planet Drool in such a way that it seems very parallel to the Nothing from the Neverending Story. But instead of being this ever encroaching threat that’s destroying Planet Drool, it’s just this black cloud that comes at the command of Mr. Electricity during a couple moments in the story and is never really mentioned again. There are definitely elements throughout this film that were interesting, but the biggest problem is that it seems to have not just been inspired by the stories of a six year old, but it was also told in the same fashion of a six year old. It jumps from story beat to story beat with little sense of how they got there or why they’re doing what they’re doing. Really just a mess of a dreamland story. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.