Spies in Disguise: Middle of the Road Spy Spoof

Pigeon Impossible (2009) is a charming short film with threadbare plotting, a sweet little animated thing that did not beg for further expansion. Blue Sky Entertainment, the up-and-down animation studio with great recent success stories like The Peanuts Movie (2015) & Ferdinand (2017), are trustworthy enough to find the heart in the story and extrapolate it into a full-length motion picture. They have done so with Spies in Disguise, their first release under the new Disney banner, which supplants the minimal content with a fine-tuned spies-for-kids storyline. It functions perfectly well. The feeling is that they have created a fine animation, one that makes perfect sense during the holiday season. It can’t all be jingle bells and merry cheer, and this is a viable alternative outing.

Spies in Disguise. Dir. Nick Bruno & Troy Quane.

From humble origins, the production is grander. Big names have been enlisted for their voice talent. Will Smith plays a spy turned into a pigeon, the way you feel about Will Smith is how you will feel about that. Tom Holland is his support as a lab tech at the same government entity, a gadgetry geek with a love for glitter-emanating objects. They pair pretty well, occasionally charming, and funny. The best performance comes from our villain, boldly menacing and effecting a great presence onto his character, played by none other than resident typical villain actor Ben Mendelsohn.

The basis of the story is one-directional. They must stop violence by sometimes using violence. And it is a little violent for its purposes. It could stick a lot closer to the emphatic delight it has for another way to stand against bullying. Holland’s character has all kinds of clever and colorful tricks up his sleeve. There are few moments of wonder, like these, that don’t really strike any sense of amazement, and it is ineffectual as a movie about stopping bullying, or as a good secret agent riff that introduces children to spy cinema or pleases adults who are familiar with that kind of picture.

Spies in Disguise. Dir. Nick Bruno & Troy Quane.

Blue Sky have a style of animation that is at least not like Illumination’s style. It looks just fine, with the uniquely blocky faces achieving abstraction. It has a look. Sometimes that is enough. Rarely does it dazzle or create anything effusively animated that would surprise any audience. It is purely ordinary and straight-laced, workmanlike about the job. It sure does get it done, but might not accomplish pulling any further enthusiasm for children looking for a more family-friendly outing than the latest war in the stars (have Disney not completely sunk this movie’s chances releasing them together?)

Directors Nick Bruno & Troy Quane tie together an average little anthropomorphic spy story here. There are small delights, like the straight-up body horror when Will Smith’s character becomes a pigeon. It’s hard to parse the exact perfect audience for the film. Adults may be bored and children will be too. My three year old turned to me after and said the movie made her sad. I understood what she meant.


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