“Technically, We Can Be Heroes is not a sequel to Sharkboy And Lavagirl. It’s in the same world and those characters are in it, but it’s not technically a sequel,” we’re reliably informed by young actor Vivien Lyra Blair when we mistakenly refer to Robert Rodriguez’s latest Netflix adventure as a sequel to his 2005 hit The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D.
Indeed, though We Can Be Heroes is set in the same world and the characters of Sharkboy and Lavagirl are in the movie (pictured above played by Taylor Dooley and JJ Dashnaw), they’re not taking centre stage this time around – it’s their children who are tasked to save the earth.
In fact, We Can Be Heroes wasn’t even initially supposed to take place in this particular world: “It started as its own story,” writer and director Robert Rodriguez tells us. “Netflix hired me to write a new original film that was in that space of empowered children. So I came up with what was like a ‘Little Kid Avengers’ story and came up with a tonne of little kids with special powers.
“[But] the whole time I was like: ‘If they like it. I’m going to try and borrow the characters [from Sharkboy And Lavagirl].’ Like they borrowed Spiderman and put him in an Avengers movie from a different studio. I’d like to borrow Sharkboy and Lavagirl just because I’m trying to create this legitimate Avengers-type adult team and if I had at least two characters in there, maybe even the Spy Kids parents as well, it would make it feel like ‘oh this is a real superhero team. I can imagine that.’”
After the world’s heroes are captured by alien invaders, the heroes’ kids are whisked away to a government facility for safekeeping. But these young Avengers certainly aren’t going to sit around and wait for their parents to get out of trouble; they’re going to use their own inherited powers to save them instead. But to do that, they must work as a team. Luckily, Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin) has the drive to bring the group together to rescue her superhero dad Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal) and the rest of the captive adults.
Though Missy is the only one of the group who hasn’t inherited her parents’ powers, her ability lies is leading the tearaway young group of superbeings: “She is the leader, just like her father,” YaYa Gosselin tells us of Missy. “I think what’s really cool about Missy was that in the beginning of the movie she was trying to find who she was. She didn’t fit in with the normal kids because her dad was a superhero but then she didn’t fit in with superhero kids because she didn’t have any powers. So it was really cool to play a character that kind of escalated. Coming from this girl that didn’t really know where she fit in, to this girl that was a confident leader and knew who she was.”
From elasticity to time control to predicting the future, the kids have plenty of abilities at their disposal. Also, by having We Can Be Heroes take place in the same universe as Lavagirl and Sharkboy, it meant Rodriguez could go back to those characters’ superpowers and have a bit of fun with them: “I could give [Lavagirl and Sharkboy] an offspring that had superior power that was shark strength and lava strength all rolled into one. I loved those powers [and] I really wanted one of the kids to have it. But I didn’t want to just give them shark strength because that’s just going to be a rip off. I really wanted a little girl to be able to throw people around the room.”
The girl who throws people around the room would be little Guppy (played by our informant Vivien Lyra Blair), the daughter of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Guppy’s powers include not only super strength but the ability to control liquid – which in one scene leads her to creating a giant shark made from liquid metal (“I think the shark was probably the funniest to film,” Blair laughs. “It was really fun, especially in ADR when I actually got to see how it turned out. That was great!”).
In fact, Blair had to do a multitude of stunts within the film (including taking down fully grown bodyguards), though luckily she has a bit training on how to kick butt: “I go to a taekwondo school so they let me practice on my instructor who was about the same size as those guards,” she tells us. “So I do it quite often to be honest!”
It’s this form of empowerment for kids that ties We Can Be Heroes with Sharkboy And Lavagirl. The two films really push the idea that kids can overcome anything, and do so in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean just beating the bad guy, or the bully, but enlightening them on a different course of action: “It’s in all these films,” Rodriguez nods. “This and in Spy Kids too. They never really defeat the bad guys, they always change the bad guys. They don’t go just beat people up, they go and they change the mind of somebody who’s misguided. That was a legacy of these pictures that I wanted that to continue here with [We Can Be Heroes].
“It’s a way to tell a mythology for children that can better their lives in some way. Teach them about the world, teach them how to work better together, show that the parents don’t get along and are always fighting and that the kids can do a better job than the parents!”
Parenthood and family is most definitely at the centre of We Can Be Heroes – not just in terms of the storyline, but behind the camera too. Robert is not the only Rodriguez credited on the film, his children — Racer Max, Rebel, Rogue, and Rhiannon — also played vital roles in bringing We Can Be Heroes to life. Racer Max is a producer on the film (he also created the characters of Sharkboy and Lavagirl when he was seven years old); Rebel wrote the film’s score; Rogue created the film’s alien spaceship set designs; and any of the characteristics seen in the film’s female characters are inspired by Rhiannon.
It’s clear that having his children being so involved in this series of movies has taught Rodriguez a thing or two… “Parents can help nurture and learn from their children at the same time. It’s a two way street. It’s not: ‘This is me, telling you’. It’s a partnership, but I’ve just learned that being one of ten and having five kids of my own and seeing how they turned out!”
The responsibility for creating a film that will be beloved by kids is not lost on Rodriquez who ensured that We Can Be Heroes is not only entertaining, but educational too, and is full of characters that kids can look up to: “If they have characters that they really admire, they model themselves after those characters’ virtues. So it’s a very enriching movie for kids yet still crazily entertaining. They’re going to watch it over and over. You have to put in ideas and messages that are really good for children. If you’re going to get into their dreams like that, it’s your responsibility as a filmmaker, as a parent, to do that.”
That’s a lot of responsibility, but there isn’t a better platform to realise those ideals than with genre: “Genre is a great way to reveal truth,” he continues. “Spy Kids is more like a spy-fi because it’s getting that science fiction element in it. That’s a very sub-genre of spy films. Then this superhero genre with Sharkboy And Lavagirl…
“Star Wars was a western basically for children. You can have these characters they look up to and want to emulate. They want to be like Luke, they want to be like Han Solo. It’s a way to teach them a way of being.”
This young generation has had a tough year; likely having to come to terms with the uglier side of reality a lot earlier than they should. Luckily the next generation of children are in good hands with Rodriguez: “We have to prepare [children] in the best way possible, because they’re going to inherit this world and they’re going to have to do battle with overwhelming negativity.
“You can counter it with overwhelming positivity and show that through the movie. Show how they can work together, be a better team and go for a common goal to make the world a better place.”
We Can Be Heroes is our on Christmas Day on Netflix.