A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spy School is essentially a movie-length extrapolation of the expression, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive." The lead character, Thomas, is a mischievous liar, but eventually he learns a valuable lesson in truth telling. The movie also shows how and why it's better to value the friends who actually like you over classmates who are merely perceived as being "popular." There's some cartoonish violence, but, more troubling, there's also some bullying, including a scene in which a bully slams a door into the main character's arm, knocking him to the ground and leaving him with what he thinks is a broken arm. Parents should also know that despite the movie's title, this movie is not set in a spy school; the change from an earlier title (Doubting Thomas) seems like an attempt to lump this in with more successful movies like Spy Kids.
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What's the story?
Thomas Miller (Forrest Landis) is a mischievous 12-year-old boy who is constantly making up exaggerated stories to get out of trouble while dealing with bullies and teachers. His only friend is Jackie (AnnaSophia Robb), a fellow school misfit who is beginning to have stronger feelings than friendship for Thomas. Meanwhile, their school is abuzz with the news that the President's daughter, Christina Adams, will be attending the school dance. But when Thomas learns of an evil plan to kidnap the President's daughter, everyone simply writes it off as another one of Thomas's lies. It's up to Thomas to find out who is trying to kidnap the First Daughter, who the good guys are in the whole debacle, and somehow prove that he is actually, for once, telling the truth.
Is it any good?
Kids will enjoy SPY SCHOOL for its portrayal of bumbling and oafish authority figures, and the mischievous ways in which Thomas gets out of trouble through his over-the-top tales. Parents who can overlook these cartoonish portrayals will ultimately enjoy the movie's overarching message on why it's important to tell the truth. Through the exaggerated parody of middle school life and the misadventures in the story itself, timeless messages of being honest and being grateful for the friends you have emerge.
Although it's the kind of movie that makes it hard to suspend disbelief, there's enough charm in the acting to overcome some of the forced plot points along the way. As lead liar Thomas, Forrest Landis isn't as annoying as other precocious child actors playing precocious kids, and as his would-be girlfriend, AnnaSophia Robb, adds a dimension of sweetness to the movie as the two characters navigate through the difficulties of a budding tween romance. It's not the most sophisticated comedy out there for families, but the humor and the message should make this a movie both parents and kids can enjoy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bullying. How does this movie present bullying? How does Thomas deal with the bullies around him?
What should you do if you are being bullied? What about if you see someone being bullied?
How accurately does this movie show what it's like to be a 12-year-old? Does your school have cliques and bullies too?
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2009
- Cast: D.L. Hughley, Lea Thompson, Rider Strong
- Director: Mark Blutman
- Studio: Screen Media Films
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: Mild action and brief smoking.
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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