It’s been 15 years since The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. What was it like for you to come back to these characters after so long?
It was so fun. It wasn’t intentional to come back to them in particular, because it was a new film. Netflix came to me and said, “We loved the Spy Kids and Sharkboy movies. Those all played really great on our service.” Then they asked, “Could you could come up with a family film, in that vein, something new for that audience?” I loved the idea. I loved making those films. They just didn’t seem as viable for the theater because parents would maybe take their kids to see them once or twice. But if the kids could drive themselves, they’d be going every day because when they would finally come out on video, they would watch them over and over on TV.
Over the years, people just watched them a lot, so I was excited about doing something like that for Netflix where it could go right to the audience. If my daughter wants to watch Glitter Force, I don’t have to take her to a theater. She can click on it on Netflix and watch it over and over and over.
And then We Can Be Heroes was born?
Yes, I came up with a new idea, We Can Be Heroes, wrote the script. And as I came up with it — my kids are now old enough — we all got to work together on it. And we came up with all of these characters. Originally we had 16 kids with so many different abilities. I kept wishing that one of them could have shark strength. I thought, “Wow, we cracked the code on that 15 years ago.” That thing [Sharkboy and Lavagirl] was such a great, empowering idea my son had come up with when he was the same age as the little girl who plays Guppy [in this new movie]. He was that age when he came up with Sharkboy and Lavagirl.
It’s great that you can collaborate with your kids.
When a kid comes up with an idea, it speaks right to what it is they want. They need empowerment at that age and feel like they could do anything, and they are looking for wish fulfillment. So I’d already turned the script in, and we were getting ready to make it, and I went to Netflix and I said, “Can we maybe do what Marvel did when they borrowed Spider-Man from Sony?” The plan was to borrow Sharkboy and Lavagirl and have them be adults. They would legitimize my adult superhero team, which has characters you’ve never heard of, like Miracle Guy and Blinding Fast. To see Sharkboy and Lavagirl in there, people in pop culture have heard that name somehow, even if they never saw that movie. That would make it feel like a legit team. But then also, selfishly, I could have one of the kid characters be their child and have their combined powers.
It’s not a Sharkboy and Lavagirl sequel, though?
It became an unofficial sequel even though it doesn’t really work as a sequel because in the original film, they existed in the dream world, and in the new one, they’re just real — Sharkboy and Lavagirl just exist.
You got Taylor Dooley to return as Lavagirl.
Yes. It was very fun. I didn’t even have to use the original actors because the story is more about the kids, not the parents so much. But when they called Taylor and asked if she’d be interested — and told her she wouldn’t even have to dye her hair and could wear a wig — she said “No, no. I’m dying my hair. I’m Lavagirl. I’ve been wanting to go back to that color.” It’s now become a popular color. It wasn’t back in the day. We had to concoct it, and now there are all kinds of versions of that color that you can find readily available. And she totally went for it, and it was really fun.
Did you ever have a Sharkboy and Lavagirl sequel in mind?
Oh, I loved that film. I always wanted to do something with it, either a sequel, reboot or maybe an animated film — something with them still as kids, not adults. That just came out making this film, and it worked because now those actors are old enough to have their own kids — Taylor has two, in fact. It actually worked out really well.
Technology has evolved a lot since Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Did that affect the making of Heroes in any way?
Not necessarily. I like being scrappy. And a lot of the ideas that are always in these films are just really clever, two-dollar effects. I like that kind of storytelling, and being creative and childlike in that way is what I love about making these films. You tap into that part of the imagination where you can make things really happen and feel very profound. And they’re really simple. It’s so simple that an adult film would never put those techniques in there because it would seem like they’re cheating — it’s too easy. But it works really well in this kind of thing. Those clever ideas sometimes stand out the most.