Spies in Disguise (2019) Review

This movie should do well in the Christmas holiday season – it appeals to boys as well as girls, because of the strong leads. Will Smith is obviously the lead, but he is supported by the lovable Tom Holland and hard-nosed Rashida Jones.

It is suitable for kids of all ages because of the action, but no actual depictions of people being killed. In addition, the supporting character (Walter Beckett) advocates for non-violent disabling of enemies.

He’s an eccentric version of MI6’s Q, and first-time directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno clearly know their James Bond tropes. Lance checks most of these boxes, with his sleek suit, tricked-out luxury car, quippy persona and comically chiseled jaw line. The slick opening credits sequence, set to the Mark Ronson and Dodgr jam “Freak of Nature,” is straight out of the 007 playbook as well.

Considering that this was inspired by an animated 2019 short by Lucas Martell (who also went on to be a consultant on this), I commend Blue Sky for forming their own concept out of it while staying true to the source material. They didn’t pull a Sony and screw over the creator of that Pixels short which turned into that turd of an Adam Sandler movie. The people on this were inspired by Martell’s short and it shows, even as bizarre as the story is… and believe me, this gets bizarre. You think the premise is the weirdest thing about this? So many of the sequences have an excessive factor of weirdness and you can tell everyone on board was unapologetic about it. Because of Walter being an inventor of insane gadgetry, there are a number of sequences of characters getting utterly paralyzed in the most bizarre means possible. I’m not going to lie, Walter’s gadgets are awesome. They’re things you’d find in a Ratchet and Clank game and they make for some fun fast-paced action sequences.

The humor includes enough slapstick and gross-out gags to keep the kids entertained, but there are clever callbacks and meta-jokes for older audiences to chuckle at as well. Although an early “Kill Bill”-tinged sequence romanticizes the pleasures of a good, old-fashioned on-screen scrap, the rest of the shrewd set pieces are about finding “a good way to stop the bad,” as Walter puts it. Screenwriters Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor, who loosely adapted “Spies in Disguise” from the 2009 short film “Pigeon: Impossible,” anchor the story around the refreshingly subversive theme of nonviolence, as the movie finds increasingly inventive ways to visualize Walter’s whimsical approach to spycraft.

Before launching its globe-trotting adventure, “Spies in Disguise” finds grounding in a sweetly sentimental prologue in which a young Walter is shown tinkering with devices designed to protect his police officer mother (Rachel Brosnahan). Walter knows his ideas are peculiar, but his mom emphasizes the value of thinking outside the box. “What’s wrong with weird?” she asks. “The world needs weird.”

Despite the animation being top-tier, the film is lacking in the writing department. Following the nature of a buddy comedy set on two polar opposites, I found myself getting annoyed at both of the leads in the early half of the movie. Given their different departments of work, they emphasize too much on their occupation being their characteristics, making them one-dimensional. Walter is a young nerd who is just so excruciatingly nerdy that it gets annoying. Every other line towards pigeon Lance is fun facts as to why being a pigeon spy triumphs over being a human spy as if Walter was a pigeon himself.

In other words, Spies in Disguise is a perfectly fine family film, one that allows Blue Sky to re-establish itself as an edgier form of Disney animated movie with an entertaining premise that won’t bore or disappoint anyone forced to sit through it with kids.

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