Spoofs of the spy genre—specifically the James Bond brand, have been popping up a lot lately. From Peter Hewitt’s Johnny English to Paul Feig’s Spy to Susanna Fogel’s The Spy Who Dumped Me, but this time it has finally reached the family-friendly demographic with Blue Sky Studios’ Spies in Disguise. Loosely based on Lucas Martell’s animated short Pigeon: Impossible, the film was directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane and written by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor.
The film follows Lance Sterling (Will Smith), an over-confident spy cut from the same cloth as Bond and his American equivalent Ethan Hunt. A mission leads to unintended consequences, that force Sterling to seek out help from tech nerd Walter Beckett (Tom Holland). However, Sterling’s worst tendencies lead him to accidentally drink Walter’s latest science experiment, which turns him into a pigeon.
Pigeons (or rats with wings) are not the most beloved creatures in the world. They are seemingly everywhere and always getting too close for comfort. However, as Walter argues, pigeons can be the best form a spy can take. Their usefulness is taken a step further than passing along messages. The premise is as wild as a Bond film (with a dash of children’s humour) but while it is entertaining, the film is tonally inconsistent.
Firstly, there is some stellar animation during Sterling’s action sequences, so stellar that it begs for a straightforward actioner with Lance Sterling in human form. It is rather unfortunate that the film adds to the troubling number of characters of colour transforming into an animal or some non-human entity for comedic effect (The Emperor’s New Groove, The Princess and the Frog, Soul). Spies in Disguise perhaps would have been better served as being an animated spy film with Sterling and Walter (who are basically Bond and a wacky Q) being paired on an adventure for other reasons, that don’t involve pigeons.
Since this is the movie we got, it is effective to a point. At times the movie does present some compelling issues to the forefront—for example, good guys using extreme violent measures to combat bad guys don’t work. These ideas are big but are written in a manner that is easy to understand and digest for children. However, as this is a children’s movie and we do get bogged down in some childish humour that veers off into gross-out territory; befitting for a movie about pigeons. Perhaps not all animated films can balance nuanced ideas and being a children’s movie as well as The Incredibles or the How to Train Your Dragon series.
Although the film is tonally inconsistent and perhaps lacking in the narrative department, it cannot be denied that this will be fun for kids. Adults who will accompany them will also have an enjoyable time, but they may glance at their watch as the film feels longer than it is with its poor pacing. Thankfully, Will Smith and Tom Holland, as well as the dynamic cast brought on to play forgettable characters, have great expressive voices and comedic chops that tie this whole thing together into a digestible snack. Also, the themes and messages of the film will resonant with younger generations and hopefully start a healthy and helpful conversation.
Spies in Disguise is out in US cinemas on December 25th and UK cinemas on December 26th
By Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa Abdi is a lifelong film student and aspiring film festival programmer. Her favourite genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and horror and her favourite director is Guillermo del Toro. She is madly in love with Eva Green and believes she should be cast in everything. You can follow Ferdosa on Twitter @atomicwick