Why 'Spy Kids' Was the Most Disturbing & Messed Up Movie of Your Childhood
When thinking back on the films of our youth, most of us probably jump first to classic animated features, maybe a Home Alone or two — but it's important to remember that with all these nostalgia touchstones came a steady stream of au courant Kids Movies, scooping up our box office dollars and merchandising alongside our fast food. For millennials of a certain age, our childhoods were thus necessarily shaped by a series of awkward early-aughts forays into CGI — and perhaps chief among them, at least for a time, was the franchise-spawning enigma that is Spy Kids.
The movie lays its conceit pretty plain in the title — They're kids! Who are spies! — and to those of us who saw it in theaters at the intended young-ish age, maybe once or twice since, that's probably about the impression that remained. A few days ago, however, I ended up seeking out a clip of the film, just for curiosity's sake — and what I found was sincerely, profoundly terrifying on any number of levels. Here's why.
For those who need a refresher, the basic premise of the film is that Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino play a Mr. and Mrs. Smith-type couple trying to Have It All™, balancing family life with their super-secret super-spy careers — which is all going just fine, until they're kidnapped by the evil host of a children's TV show (played, brilliantly, by Alan Cumming), and it's up to their kids, Carmen and Juni, to go rescue them.
Right off the bat, this plot structure is a bit yikes-inducing: The idea that one's parents aren't omnipotent problem-solvers is usually something kids come to organically around their early teens, those prime "Ugh, Mommm" years, rather than under the threat of imminent peril it's their responsibility to prevent. Sure, plenty of Disney protagonists are somehow orphaned, too, but they are also often princesses or merfolk or deer — not, y'know, relatable live-action modern-day young'uns to whom it is suddenly revealed that Mom and Dad are not only fallible, but also well on their way to being dead. Given the lack of time Carmen and Juni spend crumpled on the floor weeping in the face of this news, I call bullshit.
Meanwhile, it's worth mentioning that a vital part of the evil plan the Spy Kids are called in to thwart is the creation of an "army of robot children" — the first two prototypes of which are exact duplicates of Carmen and Juni themselves. Specifically, they're tasked with preventing the bad guys from getting something called "The Third Brain," which will allow the robots to act and speak indistinguishably from humans — a task in which they are unsuccessful, and are thus ultimately forced to do battle with their own clones. So now, not only has their parental security been undercut, but also their sense of themselves as individuals, of the self as necessarily unique, of human versus artificial intelligence — I'm just saying, philosophers have spent decades grappling with issues these children are made to face in a matter of hours.
And then, of course, there is the villain himself, Fegan Floop, host of the kids show Floop's Flooglies — "Flooglies" being the name for his co-starring cadre of neon, putty-faced monsters dressed in clown attire who talk like a cross between Alvin and the Chipmunks and the chorus of Missy Elliott's "Work It."
A key plot point of the film is that Floop isn't very good at his job, so it makes sense that his creations wouldn't necessarily be classically cute or appealing. But let's not gloss over the fact that the Flooglies aren't just costumes or puppets; they are, in fact, actual human beings whom Floop has trapped and warped into semi-conscious drones, the better to suit his artistic purposes. To put this into perspective, that is what Jeffrey Dahmer did to his victims, only with improvised sulfuric acid lobotomies instead of wacky face-stretching technology. Swap secret agents for plus-sized young women and "TV show" for "skin suit," and you've got Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. And this man is hosting a kids show.
Then, just in case we needed further reason to wail and rend our garments, the movie is populated by creatures made entirely of thumbs.
But even that is not what I came here to talk to you about today. No, all the existential dread and psychopathic villainy and hideous nightmare beasts would actually be fine — if, y'know, bit dark — were it not for the wee glimpse we're afforded of Floop's actual show, or, as it's otherwise known, the unadorned face of pure madness. See for yourself, below:
In case you didn't catch that — your eyes too focused on the swirling hell vortex in which the scene takes place, your ears too distracted by the so-classic-it's-a-joke Danny Elfman scoring — here are the lyrics, in their entirety:
It's a cruel, cruel world all you little boys and girls, and some mean, nasty people want to have you for their supper — but if you follow me, you can all be free — free, you can all be free! — as a bird on a big TV if you dream, if you dream, if you dream, my dream!
It's a cruel, cruel world full of nasty boys and girls, and the selfish, mean, nasty people, nasty, nasty, nasty, nasty— But there's a way you can make your day; you can laugh, you can smile, you can come and stay a while; you can dream my dream!
Now, before we go any further, I would like you to take a moment to think about the person who wrote this. That person had to come up with these words, put them on a page in this order, and think "Yep, nailed it!" Then, he or she had to continue thinking that long enough to send it to the producers, studio execs, et al., who also had to give it a thumbs up, before sending it off to the director, to Cumming, to Elfman and his orchestra, where it was then filmed on a fully crewed set, delivered to the CGI team— Point being, all told, there were hundreds of people who were involved in the making of this sequence, and not one of them, at any point, saw fit to race in front of the camera, screaming "CUT, CUT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD — WE'VE MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE."
Because this song is the distilled essence of insanity — an indoctrinating anthem, if not a call to arms, with references to cannibalism, salvation through television, and just enough repetitions of "nasty" to give it that coveted "psychosexual religious murder cult" feel. It's the soundtrack to a total mental collapse — the last plinking tones your brain ekes out before sliding over to the bad side of an acid trip, the sonic equivalent of an icepick lobotomy. The fact that anyone was intentionally exposed to this psychosis, let alone developmentally vulnerable minds, is enough to make you jump in a bunker. I would be utterly unsurprised if "Floop's Dream" turned out to be the embedded psychological trigger that will cause us all, Manchurian Candidate-style, to snap.
This, then, is how the world ends — not with a bang, but with a children's movie from 2001.