Talk about not recognising someone, or something, staring you right in the face. With the recent Fox acquisition by Disney, some titles seemed out of place, and in all honesty, animated films Spies in Disguise, about a geeky nerd turned scientist who turns a master spy into a pigeon, didn’t inspire much confidence. Especially not when stacked against any Disney animated film.
And this is even after hearing that the nerd is voiced by Tom Holland, and the spy, Will Smith. Despite its star-studded cast, the movie sounded so absurd that you would think for certain there was no way this could be good – but boy, you would be so wrong. Spies in Disguise is a colourful, feel-good movie, aided by stellar voice-acting that is sure to be a delight for the whole family.
The premise is beyond ridiculous but after watching the movie, it seems almost genius? Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a secret agent working for the US government and of course, he’s the best and most celebrated agent they’ve got. After he fails to retrieve a deadly drone on one of his missions, he is accused of stealing it and harming his fellow agents.
However, unbeknownst to the agency, a villain named Killian, is the real culprit and uses his bionically enhanced body to adopt Lance’s likeness, to enact his evil plans.
Lance with nowhere to go and not knowing who to trust, turns to Walter, a quirky scientist with even quirkier inventions. After hastily gulping down one of Walter’s experiments, Lance transforms into a pigeon. So now, Lance must not only stop Killian, but stop him as a pigeon. What an insane bird-brain scheme! Luckily he now has Walter and Walter’s pigeon companion, Lovey, to help him along the way.
To kick things off, the voice acting in this film was simply stellar. Tom Holland has really nailed the nerdy, awkward man-child voice since it’s pretty much the same voice he uses for Spider-Man. As for Smith, the rapper-turned-comedian-turned super star really knows how to bring out the comedic value of a punchline, and the jokes are so much better when he’s a pigeon.
The other cast members like Karen Gillan, Rashida Jones and even DJ Khaled were wise casting decisions, which made each character memorable regardless of how many lines they have. But Ben Mendelson stands out from the supporting cast as Killian, making Killian all the more menacing and truly someone to fear.
The characters are also perfectly animated, especially the pigeons. The other birds of the flock, Lovey, Jeff and Crazy Eyes, are just birds and may not have voice actors but they are fantastically animated, and some of the best scenes are the interactions between the three of them and Sterling as a pigeon.
The movie is funny where it needs to be, and especially more so when it’s not trying to be. The subtle scenes, like the agency swarming Walter’s house, or the dry humour that manages to sneak in before it cuts to the next scene, are the gags that stand out.
But what’s a spy movie without the action? With an animation, filmmakers have the opportunity to illustrate their wildest fantasies and it seems they put that into hyperdrive for this one. While the opening scene already hints at the type of over-the-top action you’re in for, nothing beats the final battle.
Throughout the movie, Walter begs the agency and Lance to try things a new way, without hurting anyone. He’s mostly met with scoffs and rejection but in the end, Lance embraces Walter’s philosophy and this creates the most imaginative final battle for a spy flick. The animators really outdid themselves with the intensity, composition and all the colours, making the final act a fulfilling end to an entire journey across the globe.
And because this is not made by Disney, the film works because it is not trying to sell toys. While it does cater to children by amping up the easy gags, there is an emotional journey that will keep older audiences entertained. Under the guise of a kid’s film, Spies in Disguise is a really intelligent film that deconstructs the stereotypical spy film and creates something that is exhilarating and suspenseful, but leaves you a warm fuzzy feeling as you exit the hall.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Don’t judge this spy-caper with the usual lenses – it may not be made by Disney, but it belongs right at home among the other Disney animated greats.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 9/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10