The Origin Of The Thumb-Thumbs And Other Awesome ‘Spy Kids’ Facts

It has been 15 years since acclaimed director Robert Rodriguez brought audiences the best children’s espionage movie ever made: Spy Kids. Take that, Agent Cody Banks! The film is a visual delight, blending the magic of Willy Wonka with the action of James Bond. It really has it all, from slick gadgets to jokes about peeing and pooping.

Boasting an all-star cast, including Antonio Banderas, Tony Shaloub, Terri Hatcher, Alan Cumming, and Robert Patrick, the film was lauded for highlighting a Latino family and featuring strong female characters, things traditionally overlooked in family fare and action films. For audiences, it provided a touchstone that connected everyone who was part of the 7 to 12 year old age range in 2001. To celebrate the film’s anniversary and to get that Floop song stuck in your head, let’s take a look at some fascinating facts about a film that Robert Rodriguez built from his boyhood fantasies.

The thumb-thumbs were based on drawings from Rodriguez’s childhood.

Those brutally strong and woefully clumsy henchmen made of thumbs are literally from Rodriguez’s childhood because they are based on drawings he did at the age of 11. Ever imaginative, his favorite movie as a child was Escape from Witch Mountain; Rodriguez admits drawing from both that film and from Willy Wonka and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when developing the fantastic world of Spy Kids.

The only actors to appear in all four films in the franchise are the spy kids, Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega, and Danny Trejo (Uncle Machete).

Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino reprised their roles as Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez for three of the four movies, but when the focus shifted to a new family with Joel McHale and Jessica Alba in the parental roles, there wasn’t much for them to do. Uncle Machete, on the other hand, can always be counted on to provide spy gear and to be in a Robert Rodriguez movie. Seriously, Trejo is in pretty much all of them.

George Clooney’s scene as Devlin was filmed in his living room in a single morning.

Rodriguez likes to continue working with people on multiple projects (Trejo! Banderas! Salma Hayek!), so it isn’t a surprise that he brought Clooney around again after From Dusk till Dawn. Speaking to the BBC, Rodriguez described filming Clooney for Spy Kids 3 and said it was the same way he was filmed for the first film: at home with no need for pants. That man is living the dream.

I’d already written him in the script but I didn’t tell him because I wanted to figure out when I could film his scene. I called him in March, and said, “Hey, do you know you’re in “Spy Kids 3″?”. He said “I am?” I said “Yeah, you play the President!”, “I do?”, I said “Yeah! When can I come and film you?” and he said “Well, I should have some time in May.” I said “How about Monday? I’m flying up there already and I got my HD camera, I’ll just show up in your living room like last time, I’ll set up the camera, two lights and the microphone, and I’ll read the off-camera dialogue. The way we’re shooting you, you don’t even have to wear pants!”

The movie was inspired by Rodriguez’s vignette in Four Rooms.

Four Rooms was a 1995 film with four parts, each written and shot by a different director. Rodriguez’s portion featured Antonio Banderas, but it also was about a family, whose costumes started the thought process that lead to Spy Kids.

I came up with this story when I was doing Four Rooms. I just loved the way this family looked, and when they were dressed in tuxedos and they looked like little James Bonds. And I had this idea…they could be spies, and they could get captured, and the kids have to save them.

The kids determined who was cast in the mother’s role.

When filming Four Rooms, Rodriguez cast Banderas first, and then looked for the best child actors he could find. The mother was hired last and picked based on her resemblance to the kids. That was why the family in that film had an Asian mother, as one of the children was Asian. In Spy Kids, Daryl Sabara is a redhead so the mother had to be one, too, hence Carla Gugino’s dye job.

Robert Rodriguez is still really close with Alexa Vega.

He clearly served as much of a familial role as a directorial one in star Alexa Vega’s life. In addition to buying her a car on her 16th birthday, the actress told Wonderwall that Rodriguez walked her down the aisle.

He’s always been super supportive of me. He’s truly been like a dad. He bought me a car for my 16th birthday. So when this time came around, I remember being so nervous to tell him I was engaged. I thought he’d tell me I was too young and that he wasn’t going to be happy for me. You just get so nervous when you look up to someone. Then when I told him and he took it so well, I immediately asked him and he said yes. I was so happy!

It only cost $36 million to make.

For a film that appears to be entirely CGI, Spy Kids actually has a pretty low price tag.  Robert Rodriguez knows how to get some bang for his buck, despite a third of the movie being effects. In an interview with The Guardian, Rodriguez commented on his budget savvy approach to film-making.

The first person you usually hire on an effects-based movie like this is an effects supervisor. I didn’t – I wanted to figure out how to do it myself. It’s just a case of being more creative: it looks like an expensive movie, but it’s all magic tricks. I edited it in my garage, and it had to feel personal or it would be like one of those studio-made kids’ movies that are just awful. It’s a big home movie, basically.

Take some time to celebrate your love of Spy Kids by plotting a minion overthrow or by deforming spies and making them star in your acid trip of a television show. Just be sure to include your family, because the movie really, really wants you to know it is all about family.

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