NFK film review: The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl
Nathanael Smith | On 31, Jan 2016
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Cayden Boyd, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Dooley
Netflix For Kids, the column where VODzilla.co get a childless adult to sift through the dregs of Netflix’s catalogue for the youngest cinephiles, catches up with an overlooked entry on Taylor Lautner’s CV.
Find the nearest child and ask them to tell you a story. Tell them it can have anything in it they want. The only limit is their imagination. Chances are, they’ll come up with loads of wacky ideas. A robot with electrical-beam limbs. Pink-haired girls who can shoot lava from their hands. A magical land made up entirely of cookies and milk. The ideas will be non-stop. Only, the other thing you’ll notice about this story is that there is no discernible structure. It won’t go anywhere, none of the ideas will cohere and if there is any dialogue in the story that this seven-year-old tells, it’s unlikely to win any awards. This infantile yarn-spinning will be similar to watching The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, only it’ll have the defence of being cute because a kid is telling it, not an adult director with a $35 million budget.
It wouldn’t actually be surprising if a primary school kid did write this monstrosity, such is the volume and stupidity of the nonsense displayed. The only tell-tale sign that this was actually devised by adults is a sub-plot about divorce, some jokes that kids wouldn’t get and the occasional strains of a theme (kids wouldn’t bother with that, too boring.) Yet aside from these hints that someone actually thought about the film, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is a film so catastrophically misjudged you occasionally wonder whether anyone wrote it at all.
The plot involves a bullied weirdo at school, who is too busy dreaming about the titular superheroes to make friends. A group of 90s-family-movie-style bullies pick on him, steal his dream journal and tell him that his superpowered friends never existed. The next day, he’s whisked off to Planet Drool – no, really – where he has to stop an evil robot and a floating, Oz-like face from turning everything to darkness and crushing dreams forever. Ironically, in the process of doing this, it also crushes the audience’s dreams of ever enjoying a film again.
It’s hard to say what’s worst about the film. It could be the most abysmal CGI ever to have emerged bleeping from a computer, creating the amorphous hellscape of this imagined planet. It could be the absolute stupidity of the plot, where dreams become real if you dream them enough, or something, and there’s a giant bed but also a crystal heart and it could all be one giant hallucination by the main character Max. It could be the 3D moments, where people unnecessarily spit or throw water towards the camera so you can see the terrible graphics in extra dimensions. The most likely culprit, however, is the dialogue, an object lesson in how not to write exposition; every line is a first draft, drama-free sentence. You lose a little bit of your soul as you listen.
Even more remarkable than the absolute vacuum of quality is the sheer insanity of the film. To wit, this is a story that, at one point, sees the three main characters floating on disembodied robotic eyes through a field of glowing green brains. It’s a film that thought a Taylor Lautner song-and-dance sequence and Lavagirl dissolving into a head floating in some pink goo were both good ideas. There’s almost something hard to hate about a film that’s clearly quite sincere, but it’s all so incompetent in a what-the-hell kind of way that it would be unfair not to warn unsuspecting parents browsing through Netflix for a temporary distraction for children. You have to wonder whether anyone would enjoy it.
Clearly, however, somebody at Disney saw The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Rather eerily, some of the scenes set on Planet Drool have reappeared in later, better films. The land of milk and cookies is not too dissimilar from Sugar Rush, the game in Wreck-It Ralph; more obvious, however, is the parallels with Pixar’s Inside Out. The critically lauded animation has the same tendency towards categorising sections of the brain as Rodriguez’ film does his abstract concepts. So in Sharkboy there is a Dream Graveyard, the Stream of Consciousness and even, yes, a Train of Thought. Such is the similarity of these moments that it actually made us like Pixar’s film a little less, as if we discovered that Margaret Atwood plagiarised from an Innocent Smoothies carton.
“Many of the concepts and much of the story were conceived by Rodriguez’ children,” A quick glance at Wikipedia tells us. It figures.
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.