Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 4D

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Profanity:One almost-swear word, some schoolyard language and potty humor
Nudity/Sex:Potty humor
Violence/Scariness:Action/comic peril and violence, fighting, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters, strong female characters, very capable and confident disabled character
Movie Release Date:August 19, 2011
DVD Release Date:November 21, 2011

Jessica Alba was dressed for her role in Robert Rodriguez’s ultra-violent “Machete” when, on a break from filming, she stopped to change her baby’s diaper.  Rodriguez says he saw her performing this most domestic of tasks in her action-movie attire and knew it was time to start up the “Spy Kids” series again, this time with Alba taking her baby with her on a mission.

The first Spy Kids was about Carmen and Juni Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara), children of super-spies who got caught up in the family business.  It was sharp and funny and imaginative and made it clear that the real adventure is being part of a family.  It was a rare film for audiences of any age with strong, smart female and Latino characters.  And Rodriguez, known for his ultra-violent films for adults (“Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Machete”), kept the “Spy Kids” series refreshingly non-violent.  If this fourth in the series is not as good as the first, it is better than the unfortunately titled Spy Kids 3D: Game Over.  And much, much better than The Smurfs.

Alba plays Marissa Wilson, a spy who goes into labor in the middle of a chase but manages to capture the evil Time Keeper on her way to the delivery room.  She quits to be a stay-at-home mom for the baby and her twin step-children, Cecil (Mason Cook) and Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard).   Her husband Wilbur (a likable Joel McHale), has a “Spy Hunter” television show but somehow never figured out that his wife was not a decorator.

A year later, the Time Keeper is creating chaos and Marissa, the twins, and the baby are off to save the world and do some family bonding as well.  The original spy kids, now grown up, arrive for some bad guy chasing and family conflict resolving as well.

Everyone gets a chance to know each other better, of course, but the film has a bit more substance.  Cecil is hearing-impaired and he and everyone around him are completely comfortable with it.  It is very rare in movies of any age that we get to see a character with a disability  rather than a disability with a character.  Cecil is a regular kid who happens to have hearing aids and Cook gives a nice comic snap to his comments.  The gadgets are a lot of fun, including a robot dog with more functions than a Swiss Army Knife, hilariously voiced by Ricky Gervais, and “hammer hands” gloves that can punch through walls.  Like all parents, Rodriguez is dismayed by the ever-quickening passage of time.  So in the midst of the silliness with a “4 dimension” scratch and sniff card to accompany some of the story’s most odoriferous moments, a muddled storyline, and too much potty humor, there is a sweet theme about seizing the moment for what matters most.


Parents should know that there is a lot of action-style peril and violence, but no one gets hurt.  There is a lot of potty humor including a dirty diaper and, as in the earlier films, an almost-swear word.  The movie includes some themes of blended family adjustment issues.  A character talks about missing his late father.  A strength of the film is the portrayal of a disabled character who is completely comfortable with his hearing impairment and is capable with and without his hearing aids.

Family discussion:  Why was it harder for Rebecca to feel comfortable with Marissa than for Cecil?  Which one of the gadgets would you most like to have?  When does time feel slow for you and when does it feel fast?

If you like this, try: the first and second “Spy Kids” movies

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pam

    My personal kids are at an age that may not want to see this (yet – they would think they’re too old, but really, one should grow out of that) but I think I’ll take some young friends, so I can see it. I loved the first film, and this one looks pretty good.

    • Nell Minow

      That’s great, Pam! I think the kids will enjoy it and I’ll bet you will, too. Ricky Gervais is very funny.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment monkie

    Rarely do we disagree… but I saw this one yesterday, and found it not only poorly done but actively offensive. The dialog lacked wit, the humor was almost entirely of the potty variety, and the sentimentality (spend time with your loved ones before it’s too late) was trite and seemed forced. What really got me was the total disregard that the spy had for her children’s safety. The movie starts by trying to make us applaud a woman who recklessly endangers her unborn child, and it only goes downhill from there.

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Monkie! I understand and agree with most of what you said. I came close to not recommending it and as you can see from my review I found it disappointing. But, as I said, it was better than much of what I have seen recently and I enjoyed the dog and was very glad to see the way they handled Cecil’s disability. The tone was so cartoonish I wasn’t bothered by putting the kids in danger. I’m sorry you were disappointed and thank you for adding your comment, which will be very helpful in guiding parents who are trying to decide whether to take their families to the film.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Donna Jo

    Very good review, as usual! We just saw the movie today, and I LOVED that Cecil’s hearing impairment was so positively integrated into the movie. My kids, one of whom has autism and other disabilities, didn’t even seem to notice that one of the kids had a disability. I wasn’t honestly expecting much of this movie, and I enjoyed it somewhat,especially the dog with the sharp wit. I “got” that it was pure fantasy, and I think the kids liked it all the more for the “irresponsible parenting” stuff. It really fit well with how they play imaginatively at their ages.

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Donna Jo! I’m so glad you saw this film the same way I did!

  • Denise Wilkins

    I just returned from seeing this movie with my 8 and 4 year old sons. I thought the movie was fine, a little silly seeing a spy with a baby strapped on her, but my boys liked it. My concern was in the movie previews shown prior to Spy Kids. I’m not sure if Spy Kids decides what movies will be previewed or it it is by theater. One of the previews that we saw was for the upcoming Sarah Jessica Parker Movie (not a children’s movie). At the end of the preview, SJP’s husband talks to her about sex. I was upset that they would show a preview discussing sex in a movie geared for young children. Do you know who I can complain to about this issue?

    • Nell Minow

      I am so sorry to hear that, Ms. Wilkins. I wrote about this problem here: It has all the information about where to send the complaint.

      National Association of Theatre Owners
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      Tel. 202.962-0054
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      Washington, DC
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      Washington, DC 20006
      (202) 293-1966 (main)
      (202) 296-7410 (fax)

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