smell test

Poop or Chocolate? An Olfactory Review of Spy Kids 4’s Aroma-scope

Photo: Rico Torres/Weinstein Company
Photo: Rico Torres/Weinstein Company

As we told you earlier this morning, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World in 4D opened this past weekend to pretty crummy box office. But that’s not the only thing about it that was crummy. Spy Kids marketed itself as being in “Aroma-scope” (that’s the “4D” of the title), meaning that to get the full Spy Kids experience, audiences were given scratch-and-sniff cards at the beginning of the film and prompted to scratch them throughout. Never one to thumb our noses at an absurd gimmick, Vulture decided to give smell-o-vision a chance. This past weekend, accompanied by smell expert Chandler Burr, the former perfume critic for the New York Times and the curator of the ­Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design, we headed over to a movie theater in Times Square to put 4-D to the test. The bad news upfront: It barely worked. Those of you who were hoping for the chance to smell dirty diapers in a movie theater, apologies, you will have to wait. Herewith, an olfactory assessment of Spy Kids 4.

Some relevant background info: The scratch-and-sniff cards came in sleek black and silver, with circles on them numbered one through eight. At various points in the movie, a number would flash on the corner of the screen, signaling that it was the appropriate time to scratch off the corresponding circle. When one did scratch, nothing rubbed off like it would on a lottery ticket, and there was no grit, like on a scratch-and-sniff sticker. The card remained smooth, and scratching barely released any additional odor. Furthermore, there was no uniformity between cards. We smelled about six or seven, and the strength of the odors, as well as the odors themselves, varied markedly from one card to the next.

According to Burr, making a scratch and sniff is “incredibly simple. There’s several different technologies. The most basic right now is a glue, and you just put the perfume in the glue, and you just rip it off. That’s what you see in fashion magazines. Then they have micro-encapsulation. They capture the scent in microscopic bubbles, and they put in a medium, and they spray it on a postcard.” He does say that it is difficult to do more than one smell on the same card, “Because each has to be laid down separately, so this [with eight smells] probably caught quite a bit of money.”

Though the smells were hard to identify (as you’ll see), it was fairly obvious what they were supposed to be: a number would appear onscreen while the kids in the movie were, say, fighting over a piece of bacon. So below we go through each of the eight smells, their intended odor, and their actual odor. Not a lot of overlap!

1. What it was supposed to smell like: Bacon. As mentioned above, the two kids in the film tug on a piece over breakfast.
What it actually smelled like: “This one doesn’t smell like anything,” Burr says. “And bacon’s not that difficult to do.”

2. What it was supposed to smell like: Blue cheese. Jessica Alba has a bag full of it (actually cheese that is blue) poured on her head.
What it actually smelled like: “Nothing, zero. Smells exactly the same as the first one.”

3. What it was supposed to smell like: Candy. A boy discovers a table full of sweets, and that takes care of smells numbered three through five.
What it actually smelled like: “Three is getting more into that chocolate thing. That’s vanillin, ethyl vanillin, and isobutyl phenyl acetate. But it’s faint.”

4.What it was supposed to smell like: Candy.
What it actually smelled like: “The problem is that none of these are real. But these are all so many things at once. They’re all bits and pieces. This is terrible. It’s not quite menthol or cinnamon. If you took cinnamon, mint, and root beer, and you but them together in equal parts, that’s four.”

5. What it was supposed to smell like: Candy.
What it actually smelled like: “They’re all very, very different from card to card. They perform completely differently. But this five definitely smells like something … This smells like blueberry muffin.”

6. What it was supposed to smell like: Baby poop. Spy baby dirties her diaper, and everyone onscreen remarks at the horrible odor (rotten lentils is one description).
What it actually smelled like: “This is chocolate to me. What’s odd is that these are all very easy, very easy smells to do. A very junior perfumer could make them.”

7. What it was supposed to smell like: Dog farts.
What it actually smelled like: “Vomit. Really it just smells bad. The raw materials are terrible.”

8. What it was supposed to smell like: Boogers.
What it actually smelled like: “It smells like something, but it has absolutely nothing to do with anything.”

And there you have it: Vomit that smells like chocolate, candy that smells faintly like blueberry muffins, and bacon that doesn’t smell like anything at all.

Poop or Chocolate? An Olfactory Review of Spy Kids 4’s Aroma-scope