On a visit to Dinky Winks' famous Troublemaker Amusement Park, Alexandra (Taylor Momsen), daughter of the President of the United States, ends up imperiled atop the Juggler Ride. Spy Kids Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) spring into action only to end up upstaged by rival duo Gary (Matt O'Leary) and Gerti Giggles (Emily Osment). To add insult to injury Gary and Gerti's father Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge) snags the top job of director at OSS away from Gregorio Cortez (Antonio Banderas). Then when the banquet dinner erupts into a battle between Spy Kids and the mysterious Magnet Men, poor Juni ends up losing the "Transmooker" a highly coveted device that can shut down electronic devices around the world. Juni is promptly demoted but Carmen hacks into the OSS system enabling them to snag a top assignment from Gary and Gerti. So the Cortez kids trace the stolen device to the Island of Lost Dreams where eccentric scientist Romero (Steve Buscemi) lies trapped by his own mad mutant animals.
For the sequel to Spy Kids (2000) one-man-band auteur Robert Rodriguez adopted a throw everything at the screen and see what sticks approach, evidently indulging every crazy idea he had. The results are, perhaps inevitably, hit and miss with the elaborate plot boasting bucket loads of clever concepts but still largely secondary to the spectacle. Though the sequel is more interested in wowing the kids with gadgets and monsters than browbeating the same moral messages from the first film the finale does make a clumsy attempt to revisit those themes. A subplot wherein Gregorio struggles to earn the approval of Ingrid's (Carla Gugino) frankly overbearing parents, played by Holland Taylor and a hi-tech wheelchair-bound Ricardo Montalban, falls flat whilst the film strangely downplays a jarring plot twist where one of the established good guys turns out to be a villain.
An abundance of gadget related digressions render the plot meandering and surprisingly stilted in parts but in those moments when Rodriguez is cooking on all eight cylinders Spy Kids 2 packs enough off-kilter invention, energy and charm to fuel a dozen children's films. The opening scenes at Troublemaker Amusement Park (named after Rodriguez's production company) showcase the kind of death-defying rides kids dream of and parents dread along with a gregarious performance from the great Bill Paxton that really should have been utilized further. Rodriguez crafts an array of amusing comic set-pieces, not least the epic scrap between the Magnet Men and an entire army of Spy Kids, and eye-catching effects sequences notably the scene-stealing antics of R.A.L.P.H., Juni's cute spider-like robo-pet. Once the action hits the Island of Dreams, where Steve Buscemi proves another agreeably eccentric presence, the film turns into an elaborate homage to the stop-motion fantasies of Ray Harryhausen. Aside from the obvious allusions to Mysterious Island (1961), Rodriguez stages a swordfight with skeleton warriors a la Jason and the Argonauts (1963) while the Spider-Monkey recalls the Troglodyte from Harryhausen's Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). Plus there is a genuinely disarming philosophical moment when Buscemi's Dr. Romero ponders whether God hides in fear from his creations much as he now does from his giant monsters.
Ultimately the film what the film lacks in coherence it makes up for with quirky charm even as it stumbles over itself trying to work out what, if anything, the moral of this particular fable is meant to be. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara remain an engaging double act and future Disney actress and singer Emily Osment puts in an effective turn with her memorable propeller pigtails. Vega was trying to launch a singing career at the time, hence Rodriguez shoehorns a scene over the end credits where Carmen performs a pop song to a crowd of screaming tweens. Speaking of singers, sweet little Taylor Momsen grew up to be the Heavy Metal sex goddess frontwoman of The Pretty Reckless. Hard to believe a decade after this movie she was performing onstage with an upside down crucifix painted on her naked body with an arrow pointing to her crotch, but more power to her.