Sharkboy and Lavagirl are supposed to be the protagonists, theoretically (they’re the main two on the poster and their actor names are before Max’s, but, let’s face it, Max is carrying this train. He explains to his class (presumably fourth grade) that what he did this summer was meet two superheroes. Sharkboy he met while on a fishing trip (by himself, which is weird) and he brought him home (maybe as a pet; Max says, quote: “I kept him fed, and in water.”) Then near the end of summer, Lavagirl shows up as Sharkboy recounts to Max his adventures growing fins, being raised by sharks, and then later searching for his lost father. Lavagirl had hair as bright as a flame and a smile as beautiful as luminous lava...Yeah, his classmates do not believe Max at all that that was what he did this summer. The only thing they may believe is their parents fighting. Because they are. A dream of their own just isn’t coming true (kids, and everybody else, need a bit of escapism from their real lives when something bad is looming. Maybe that’s what caused his dreams to power up more than usual.) He even ended the story by saying Lavagirl said there was a mission to accomplish on Planet Drool, which is a planet Max claims is where all his dreams were born and go to. Yeah, hard to believe that, even if he documents his dreams in a journal. Max’s close relationship with his subconscious make him a target of jock Linus, causing him to steal Max’s journal and wreck it before Max can get his teacher, Mr. uh...E-lec-tri-ci-dad, to forcefully give it back the next morning. Coincidence or not, you can decide, but Max ends up enraged, and a tornado that was not promised by the sunlit weather when Max arose that morning, well, it ends up being a lot more aggressive than the weatherman predicted. School is in session, and the windows are swept open, papers are flying everywhere, and then the wall gets busted through, Sharkboy and Lavagirl themselves entering right on que. They tell Max that Planet Drool, where all his dreams are made, is dying. Began yesterday. The three of them need to find what’s going on and stop it.
They have 45 minutes until the darkness destroys the planet (fun fact: there’s absolutely no way they’d be able to do what they manage to do in that time frame. You can’t get to the Ice Castle from the Dream Lair, find a one-of-a-kind crystal and make it back in ten minutes. Not unless you have a teleporter. In reality, this film makes fun of movie timelines. Here’s what I mean. When you watch an adventure movie like this, between skips that every movie must undertake, jumping us from one place to another because sleeping through the night and travelling to a certain location is almost always erased out when irrelevant to the plotline, the events we see take about 45 minutes, a cute touch because this close and somewhat accurate countdown adds more for kids to bite their nails for.). Throughout these 45 minutes, Max is half-amazed (...okay, he’s probably more amazed than that), and the other part is a little reluctant, unsure of himself. Sharkboy says to Max that he has powers, upping his fear. Yeah, that’s the right word. Max ends up experiencing a literal dream come true on the second day of school, but it’s one that has him in danger, in charge of a mission he’s not sure he can stand side-by-side with his role models in terms of their amazing abilities and ferocity to accomplish. He’s probably unsure if he’ll die, if he’ll ever see his parents again, if this planet and Sharkboy and Lavagirl being real means his life will be better from now on, being able to prove to his bullies he was right, or be seen as a freak, to be forever looked at as if he’s crazy. He doesn’t say any of this, but Cayden Boyd manages to deliver the stories through his eyes, being both believable and adorable, and the protagonist of this movie needed these traits. He doesn’t immediately run around looking for the never-ending soft serve machine and go hyperactive; Max is a character that does not have contempt for his audience.
When we were all kids, the world was a lot more full of mystery. We had no idea if there could be a dragon hiding behind the giant picket fence our next-door neighbour built and we had no idea if we were born with a superpower, and if and when we’d realize which one(s) it would be. Everyone’s had a dream at night where they could fly off the ground, or shoot fire out of their hands, or, heck, breathe underwater, and when we’re kids, being able to live these things during our unconsciousness fuels our belief in magic, that maybe somewhere our dreams are really being lived. I also liked how it first made fun of the double entendre in the word “dream”; that there are dreams that whisk us away to worlds we enjoy being in, and there are dreams we wish could come true for the better of our lives and the people around us, like Martin Luther King Jr’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. The movie doesn’t go as deep as that, focusing more on the relationship between Max’s parents. I think that’s fine enough for this movie. And the parents are not dismissed either.
Most of this movie takes place on the planet, with loads to look at as the group never stays in one place too long. It feels a little more freshly environmental than the also-pretty-cool visual environments from Spy Kids 3, and the action scenes of Sharkboy giving Jackie Chan a run for his booty and Lavagirl flying through the air and melting plug-hounds with her acidic attacks, as well as Max’s as he understands the extent of his powers as the movie goes on...boy, is it fun. You just don’t expect it to be serious; you expect it to be nauseatingly cutesy.
Now, one light noticeable flaw involves a side story around Lavagirl. Max ends up saying in a whisper about her, “You’re not evil.” No one suggested she was. She’s upset about how, like Zeus from the Michael Vey series with his horrid B.O. from being unable to bathe as a result of his shock-conducting electric makeup, Lavagirl’s powers are both a blessing and a curse, her being unable to touch basic things and destroying most of what comes near her unintentionally. She mumbles about how she knows she can be good, that she’s sure she’s not evil. She should look at some of the right-wing folks in North America. Not once is she evil nor scary (minus this one moment at the Ice Castle that’s also a little funny) for the entire movie. I feel the script could’ve been more polished here, as well as dialogue between Max’s parents at the climax that’s clearly trying too hard to not give hints of anything above the G rating and ends up cheesy and unbelievable as a result.
Sharkboy and Lavagirl is the full-on-fantasy chapter of the Spy Kids series, discussing magical possibilities kids everywhere think and dream about, and the hope in their minds of being happy, and not once in this movie is it treated with disrespect.