Dir. Robert Rodriguez.US. 2005. 94mins.

A mildly engaging children's morality tale, RobertRodriguez's The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl In 3D is the kind offilm that parents should be happy to let their kids see but which likely provetoo undemanding for anyone beyond its target age group.

While the digital specialeffects are inventive and the jokes and story should occupy the younger end ofthe cinemagoing demographic, it's strictly Kidsville and rarely manages to workon more than one level as say Rodriguez's Spy Kids' series often did.

That it also lacks SpyKids relative star power (Antonio Banderas appeared in all three films),sly pop-culture referencing and sense of humour will also not help draw adults.

That said, watching a childdiscover the wonder of 3D digital effects while easily grasping the story maybe entertaining to parents all on its own.

Considering how fewlive-action children's films are being released these days, Sharkboy hasthe potential to do decent numbers at the box office this summer and highancillary returns are a guarantee across all formats. Repeat business from thepre-teen set would seem to be the fuel this adventure needs to build seriousnumbers - a distinct possibility, given the stunning visuals and likeability ofthe leads.

A word of caution to parentsof single-digit offspring: the digital bad guys may be scary for small childrenand the main characters are in almost perpetual jeopardy, with Sharkboy andLavagirl near death on a few occasions.

The simplicity of the storymakes good non-English-language returns almost a lock, although many of thesound-alike puns ('what' and 'watt,' 'hurts' and'Hertz') might be difficult to dub. Assuming the box office successof this inaugural adventure, sequels are not so much hinted at as they arecertified by the film's last lines. If Sharkboy takes off, sequels, toysand a cartoon show are virtual certainties.

Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner)and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) are the dream creations of the film's lead, 10year-old Max (Cayden Boyd) who opens the film doing a What I Did Last Summeroral report in front of his Fourth Grade class. Unfortunately for Max, hisessay consists of reading stories from his adventures with Sharkboy andLavagirl on the Planet Drool from his dream journal.

This kind of behaviour makesMax the target of bullies, and an early scene in the school playground where heis chased by nemesis Linus (Davich) proves one of the best set pieces.

What makes the filmsignificantly different from similar fare is that Max is not some simpledreamer, lost in fantasy land to escape reality. All becomes apparent when,before long, Sharkboy and Lavagirl show up in Texas to plead with Max to returnwith them to save Planet Drool from an encroaching 'darkness.'

The major problem with thefilm is that the source material limits its target age: the dreams and drawingsof Rodriguez's seven year-old son, Racer Max. While it's a given that this is amovie aimed at kids, the script ignores too many basics, with the lessonslearned by the characters violating the fundamental Show, Don't Tell rule moreoften than not.

There are apparentinfluences (intentional or not) from The Wizard Of Oz, Willy Wonkaand Alice In Wonderland, but the story and characters are tooone-dimensional and obvious to hold much interest for the over-11 set.

David Arquette and KristinDavis have little to do but manage to put some real emotion into their fewscenes as Max's occasionally at-odds parents.

Other cast, in contrast,have too much to do, which can be off-putting: George Lopez, aside from playingMax's teacher and a heavy on the Planet Drool, also voices two characters.

Production companies
Troublemaker Studios
Dimension Films
Columbia Pictures

US distribution
International distribution
Sony PRI (most)

Executive producers
Bob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein

Elizabeth Avellan
Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez and Marcel Rodriguez
from the stories and dreams of Racer Max

Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez

Main cast
Taylor Lautner
Taylor Dooley
Cayden Boyd
George Lopez
David Arquette
Kristin Davis
Jacob Davich
Sasha Pieterse