Movie Review: The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D

THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL IN 3D is essentially Robert Rodriguez’s love letter to his son. Made from the dreams of “Racer Max” Rodriguez, the film is a boundless world of color and imagination. This boundlessness may be one of its failings, but it’s hard to gripe too much about a boy’s fantasy…though I’ll give it a shot (insert Evil Villain laugh here).

Young Max is a dreamer (Yes, the main character is also called Max.  See how loyal Daddy Rodriguez is to his son’s vision?).  Day or night, Max keeps all his imaginings in a journal.  Not that he would ever forget them.  They are so vivid for Max that he even writes school essays about them.  Shark Boy and Lava Girl are his most fleshed out creations.  There’s even evidence (to Max) that his heroes walk in the “real” world.

As strong as Max’s dreams are, though, the forces trying to step on his dreams are getting stronger. His practical school teacher Mr. Electricidad… the class bully Linus… even Max’s own parents do all they can to discourage Max from spending too much time in his fantasy world (though Dad used to be a strong dreamer once… natch!)

Inevitably, Max’s dreams collide with reality.  Shark Boy and Lava Girl come to school for Max.  Planet Drool needs him.  Planet Drool is a world Max created and, due to the people around him quashing his urge to dream, the world has fallen into a downward spiral at the hands of Mr. Electric.  Essentially a walking plug, Mr. Electric has become so evil he keeps kids trapped on a continuous roller coaster.  If they can’t rest, they can’t sleep.  And if they can’t sleep, they can’t dream. 

This is why Shark Boy and Lava Girl have retrieved Max.  He must remember the vitality of his dreams in order to save Planet Drool and his beloved creations from the ravages of Mr. Electric and the mysterious Minus.

There is a lot to delight in while watching SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL.  The origins of Shark Boy are fantastic pulp worthy of any comic book hero.  Planet Drool is a cornucopia of vibrant colors and toy like textures. The fact that this world was created by a 7 year old boy (both on and off screen) adds a wonderfully skewed view of reality as well.  For instance, Max’s parents are so practical that they not only live near school. They live right across the street from it.

Daddy Rodriguez throws in some of his film fanatic tendencies as well, mainly parallels to THE WIZARD OF OZ.  A tornado straight from Kansas.  Constant questioning of what’s a dream and what’s not.  There’s even performer cross overs.  George Lopez, for instance, plays Max’s teacher and the villainous Mr. Electric (and he totally gets this film while the other adults (David Arquette and Kristin Davis) play Max’s clueless parents a little too clueless) . Rodriguez also borrows from his own SPY KIDS 3D.  The look of that film’s digital world and this one are practically interchangeable.

In other places, however, SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL could have used more adult supervision.  The film’s visuals lack boundaries.  Sometimes they are so outlandish, they have an alienating quality.  Maybe it’s because SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL is based on a boy’s personal dreams.  Personal dreams are like imaginary friends.  They really only mean something to the dreamer.  We can appreciate their visions on a certain level, but it’s hard to get invested in them.

There’s also character points that seem tacked on, such as Lava Girl continuously asking Max, “Who am I?”.  This identity crisis does eventually click in to the story at large, but at first it seems like a detached attempt at a character arc.

The limits on Lava Girl’s powers also seem dictated by the whims of the script and not by anything established early on.  Sometimes Lava Girl incinerates whatever she touches.  Sometimes Max can hold on to her bare hand without any scorching whatsoever.  I’m sure if I took the time to imagine I would realize that:

A) Max is her creator and can do whatever he wants


B) Lava Girl’s power is failing as the world fails. Sometimes she’s not as hot as she was at the beginning. 

Do I really have to use my own imagination to fill in plot holes, though?  I don’t mind viewer participation (like the “Glasses On”/ “Glasses Off” approach for the 3D), but a fantasy film like SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL should inspire me to think outside of its box, not finish folding the flaps.

These are all the quibbles of an adult, however. Rodriguez tempers the film’s flaws with the discovery of some encouraging new talent.

Taylor Dooley makes her big screen debut as Lava Girl and here you shall witness a star in the making. There’s a charisma to Dooley that few of today’s ingenues can lay claim to.  When she smiles, she is as bright as the Lava Girl she is portraying.  Dooley backs it all up with a natural performance and an adeptness with weak dialogue, skills that will carry her far.

Cayden Boyd plays Max with the conviction needed to sell this world (and this world needs all the selling it can get).  Taylor Lautner, on the other hand, may not be a natural at playing Shark Boy, but he’s got the moves.  Action is his forte’ and, if he goes on to make a career out of that, he’ll do just fine.  With anything dramatic, however, he’s all bite and no subtlety.  It’s what you expect of a young actor, though, and no blame should be made here.

Last, but not least… the 3D.  For some reason, we’re back to the old red and blue glasses from the 1950s.  It’s hard not to long for the polarized glasses we get at those spellbinding 3D attractions in Disney World.  It’s definitely easier on the eyes and would have kept the colors of the world from becoming muddy.  SPY KIDS 3D used the red and blue yet, for some reason, it worked better there.  With SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL, even though the 3D gags are reach out and grab you, the fatigue of wearing the glasses is very pronounced.  If you can suffer through it, you’re in for some cool tricks.  If not… well, you’ll be missing most of SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL’s charm.

As some of you may have guessed by now, this isn’t really a film for adults.  This one’s for the kiddies. Rodriguez wants to appeal to the kid in all of us, but SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL was never really conceived for anyone other than Racer Max and kids like him. Though it does bring a smile to your face every now and then and you can surely appreciate the craft work, the best way to see SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL is with your kid… or somebody else’s if you can borrow one.

You can access media from the film in our database.