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Inside the digital derring-do of ''Spy Kids 2''

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Antonio Banderas, Robert Rodriguez, ...
Antonio Banderas and Robert Rodriguez: Rico Torres

The follow-up to 2001’s surprise smash ”Spy Kids” (the gadget-packed juvie Bond adventure that made $168 million worldwide and millions more in video and merchandise sales), ”Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams” sits in a stream of expectations. ”It’s our ‘Spider-Man,”’ states Dimension Films head Bob Weinstein. ”The ‘Scream’ franchise played out. This is our next one.” He’s not wasting any time, either: With ”Island” opening Aug. 7, ”Spy Kids 3” is already a go. By the time the trilogy concludes, Weinstein predicts it will generate from ”$750 million to $1 billion” in gross revenue. Not bad for movies that cost $35-37 million apiece, despite containing (in the case of ”Island”) 1,047 special-effects shots.

That’s not overkill. Rodriguez needed every last pixel to spin a wild yarn involving holographic wristwatches, arachnid robot pets, and a menagerie of creatures. And that’s not even getting to the core story, a high-stakes spy-kid rivalry pitting original rugrats (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) against newcomers Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O’Leary and Emily ”Haley Joel’s sister” Osment), their spy dad, Donnagon (Mike Judge), and a scientist of uncertain loyalties (Steve Buscemi).

Pretty ambitious for what Rodriguez refers to as his ”home movie,” but to him, it’s child’s play. And when this guy plays, he plays hard, serving as director, writer, editor, director of photography, production designer, visual-effects cosupervisor, and cocomposer of the score.