Home > Reviews > SPY KIDS – Robert Rodriguez

SPY KIDS – Robert Rodriguez

spykidsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

There’s a saying in Britain – I don’t know how widespread it is in the rest of the English-speaking world – which states that “too many cooks spoil the broth”. What this means, basically, is that if too many people try to take part in one thing at once, the end result can be diminished by the contributions of its many creators. This old adage can be applied to Spy Kids, an enjoyable children’s action score which is rendered just a little overly-schizophrenic through the use of eight – count ’em – eight different composers. Basically, Spy Kids is a James Bond adventure story with a difference – the protagonists are pre-teens. What some people may find surprising is the fact that it was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, the man who previously brought the world such dark, violent movies as El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Faculty. The plot is simple: Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) are semi-retired spies with two precocious children, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara). Gregorio and Ingrid still occasionally blast off on an adventure when duty calls but unfortunately, their sabbatical has made them a little rusty – so much so that they end up being captured by the diabolical Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), a children’s TV show host who is planning to use an army of robot children to take over the world. The only solution? The kids to rescue, armed with a load of cool gadgets and the espionage know-how inherited from mom and dad.

So, in the beginning, there was Danny Elfman. Before filming even started, Elfman was asked to write ‘Floop’s Song’, which would be performed on-screen by Alan Cumming. Then Chris Boardman came on board to adapt Elfman’s melody for use in the rest of the movie. For the score proper, Rodriguez went to Media Ventures, and emerged with an exciting series of cues written by staffers Harry Gregson-Williams, Gavin Greenaway and Heitor Pereira, who have worked together on Hans Zimmer scores before. Then if that wasn’t enough, John Debney got in on the act, writing more re-arrangement of Elfman’s theme and contributing “additional music”, while director Rodriguez and his brother Marcel teamed up with modern Mariachi rockers Los Lobos to write some original source music for specific scenes.

Considering all these diverse musical influences, one would expect Spy Kids to be a bit of a hotchpotch score, and occasionally it does jump around from style to style a little too abruptly. However, the music has somehow managed to retain a general semblance of continuity through the use of similar textures and orchestrations, even if the themes themselves leap around from track to track. Elfman’s solo contributions – ‘My Parents Are Spies’, ‘Buddy Pack Escape’ and ‘Sneaking Around Machetes’ are quite obviously his work, and recall the more flavorsome action moments of scores such as Mission: Impossible, Instinct and even Pee-Wee, but his influence is widespread through the album. His rousing seven-note ostinato underpins virtually all the action cues, several of which (“Parents on Mission”, “Pod Chase”, “The Spy Plane”) are surprisingly exciting.

‘Floops’s Song’ is probably the most recognizably Elfmanesque cue on the entire album, lifting wholesale the melody, countermelody, and everything from “This Is Halloween” from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Alan Cumming’s vocal performance is virtually identical to Danny’s own performance as Jack Skellington, and it sounds as though Elfman may have provided some of the backing vocals (nasty, nasty, nasty, nasty!). Subsequently, The Floop Song motif is recapitulated at a slower pace in the Chris Boardman-composed ‘Floop’s Castle’ towards the end of the score.

Other cues of note are ‘Spy Wedding’ and ‘Final Family Theme’, the former being a wonderfully flamboyant piece of Latin extravagance, with flashing guitars, choral effects and vibrant percussion courtesy of Los Lobos (who wrote the score for Rodriguez’s Desperado), with the latter embracing the lush emotional sound Harry Gregson-Williams contributed to the likes of Armageddon and Chicken Run.

Its still a matter of discussion as to whether “composing by committee” is a viable way of writing for films, but whatever merits or demerits are decided, Elfman, Debney, Gregson-Williams and the gang have certainly written an enjoyable hybrid for Spy Kids. Ignoring the purely artistic elements of the score’s creation, the ultimate accolade one can bestow upon Spy Kids is that it works – enhancing the action and creating a mood of light-hearted enjoyment. However, I bet BMI and ASCAP had an absolute nightmare when trying to work out the royalty checks…

Track Listing:

  • Cortez Family (1:38)
  • My Parents are Spies (2:07)
  • Spy Wedding (2:09)
  • Spy Kids Demonstration (1:03)
  • Parents on a Mission (1:15)
  • Kids Escape House (3:12)
  • Pod Chase (1:37)
  • The Safehouse (0:45)
  • The Third Brain (0:58)
  • Buddy Pack Escape (1:37)
  • Oye Como Spy (written by Robert Rodriguez, David Garza and Tito Puente, performed by Los Lobos) (2:57)
  • Floop’s Song (Cruel World) (performed by Alan Cumming) (0:58)
  • Spy Go Round (2:10)
  • Minion (1:02)
  • Sneaking Around Machete’s (0:34)
  • The Spy Plane (1:27)
  • Floop’s Castle (1:27)
  • Final Family Theme (1:40)
  • Spy Kids (Save the World) (written by David Newton, David Klotz and Emily Cook, performed by Fonda) (2:20)

Running Time: 31 minutes 29 seconds

Chapter III Records CH30002-2 (2001)

Music composed by Danny Elfman, John Debney, Harry Gregson-Williams, Gavin Greenaway, Heitor Pereira, Chris Boardman, Robert Rodriguez and Marcel Rodriguez. Conducted by Several of the above. Orchestrations by John Debney, Bruce Fowler, Ladd McIntosh and Don Nemiz. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson and John Kurlander. Edited by Richard Whitfield. Mastered by David Mitson.  Album produced by Robert Rodriguez.

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