Genre: CG Animation
Director: Troy Quane, Nick Bruno
Cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Ben Mendelsohn, Karen Gillan, Rashida Jones, DJ Khaled, Masi Oka
Runtime: 1 hr 41 mins
Released By: Walt Disney
Official Website: https://family.foxmovies.com/movies/spies-in-disguise
Opening Day: 25 December 2019
Synopsis: Super spy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) and scientist Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) are almost exact opposites. Lance is smooth, suave and debonair. Walter is... not. But what Walter lacks in social skills he makes up for in smarts and invention, creating the awesome gadgets Lance uses on his epic missions. But when events take an unexpected turn, Walter and Lance suddenly have to rely on each other in a whole new way. And if this odd couple can’t learn to work as a team, the whole world is in peril. SPIES IN DISGUISE is an animated comedy set in the high-octane globe-trotting world of international espionage.
Aside from the quintet of ‘Ice Age’ movies, Blue Sky Studios is probably best known for their colourful, hyperkinetic, yet undemanding animations like ‘Rio’, ‘Rio 2’ and ‘Epic’. Their latest, set in the world of international espionage, is no different. Inspired by an award-winning short called ‘Pigeon: Impossible’, it sees Will Smith’s super-suave secret agent supreme Lance Sterling transformed into a blue pigeon by precocious young science genius Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) in the name of ‘biodynamic concealment’, and the pair forced to team up in order to stop a terrorist named Killian (Ben Mendelsohn) from terminating Lance’s fellow colleagues using an army of weaponised drones.
Right from the start, directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno make it clear that ‘Spies In Disguise’ is intended squarely as Bondian parody. From the Bond-styled title sequence to the various narrative elements that follow – including the super-cool gadgetry, globe-trotting (from Japan to Washington to Mexico to Venice and the North Sea) and MacGuffin (a list of the identities of all the other secret agents) – you’ll most certainly recognise each and every one of the tropes which are on display; heck, the duo even throw in a homage to Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’s’ Crazy 88 in a pre-credit sequence at a yakuza hangout deep in the snowy mountains of the Iwata Prefecture. And of course, Lance is intended as an exaggerated version of the unflappable spy himself – that is, before he is dealt with the ignominy of being turned into a bird.
That high-concept twist lets the movie toss elements of body-swap comedy and mismatched buddy bonding into the mix. Smith is literally a hoot coming to terms with pigeonhood, whether it is realising that number ones and number twos come out of the same orifice or dealing with the unwanted attention of a genuine flock (including Walter’s emotional support pet pigeon, a plumper companion and a scraggly weirdo which mindlessly eats anything). Together with Holland, they make a hilarious two-person team with plenty of bicker and banter, especially as Lance and Walter are forced to reconcile the former’s deadly field instincts with the latter’s pacifist leanings.
To the credit of writers Lloyd Taylor and Brad Copeland, there is interesting commentary here on the use and consequence of violence. Whereas Lance’s aggressive nature is the result of losing those close to him in the line of duty, Killian is a vengeful product of that violence, and his vendetta with Lance is in fact personal. On the other hand, Walter is a firm believer in pacifism, which in turn guides his design on gadgetry – including a device which embraces its enemy in a disarming hug, another in the form of a party-popper kitten that explodes in a shower of glitter and yet another which resembles super-tough Silly String.
That said, all these ideas do not come at the expense of the cartoonish (pun not intended) action that you’ll probably be expecting; in fact, like any Bond film, there are numerous excuses invented just so we can squeeze in one outlandish action sequence after another. These sequences are fast and frenetic, choreographed specifically with attention-challenged audiences in mind, and while some – like that in Mexico which sees Lance and Walter try to break into a Mexico hotel to interrogate a drug dealer, or the climactic showdown with Walter’s non-violent weaponry on full display – are impressively inventive, the rest simply try to disguise their lack of wit with plenty of sound and fury.
Thankfully, Smith’s smoothness makes the proceedings a whole lot more sophisticated than they really are; indeed, it is telling that the animators have decided to model Lance to look more or less like Smith, just so you never forget the actor behind the character. Smith, as well as first-time directors Quane and Bruno, occasionally overplay Lance’s preening and condescension, but you’ll probably still enjoy his performance for what it is worth. Ditto for Holland, who expresses Walter’s gee-whiz exuberance nicely, and with whom Smith has sufficient chemistry with to provide the laughs and fun as they squabble ceaselessly over the hyperactive visuals.
Though released by Disney, this is, like we’ve said, a trademark Blue Sky Studios’ effort which is designed to be no more than zippy fun, topped up perhaps with a view on pacifism versus violence. But just on the basis of being good-natured entertainment, ‘Spies in Disguise’ succeeds at being reasonably diverting, what with its pigeon-related slapstick, non-stop action and choice voice performers. Children will lap up the incessant gags, whereas adults will enjoy the numerous tropes of the spy film genre which it paddles and spoofs. Like all the other Blue Sky animated films so far, this is far from a classic, but if you’re looking for something to bring the whole family to this holiday season, you can do much worse than this.
(Fast, frenetic but fleeting, this colourful, hyperkinetic, yet undemanding animated offering from Blue Sky Studios is good fun while it lasts but little more)
Review by Gabriel Chong