With the next James Bond movie not out for another few months, you may be pining for a good spy flick. Well, it’s not quite 007, but the new animated film Spies in Disguise has gadgets, the world’s greatest spy in Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith), a villain with a robot arm (Ben Mendelsohn) and a sort of Q in the form of a goofy kid named Walter Beckett (Tom Holland). It also has our super-spy turning into a very angry pigeon. That’s where the comparisons end. Spies In Disguise has a slow start, but once it accepts its wackiness, it turns into a charming film. The pairing of Tom Holland and Will Smith absolutely works. This might not be a must-see for adults, but if you’re bringing the kids in your family, you’ll definitely be entertained.In the beginning, we learn about how Walter, a smart kid who leaned on science to keep himself happy following a tragedy, got a cushy job inventing spy gadgets for the U.S. government. However, he’s kind of the office joke and lives by himself with his pet pigeon, Lovey, where he keeps creating gadgets. But after the world’s greatest spy Lance Sterling ends up a wanted man following a mission gone wrong, he needs help from Walter despite having dismissed his inventions before. Unfortunately, Walter’s home gadgets aren’t exactly finished, and the invisibility potion he’s been working on with the help of the consensually donated pigeon feathers from Lovey transforms Lance into a pigeon.
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What starts out as a Saturday morning cartoon ends up sucking you in more than you expect, between the Walter/Lance banter and the increasingly out-there sight gags. As Walter and Lance try to escape from the government, they run into a flock of pigeons who sort of adopt the reluctant Lance. There is one called Crazy Eyes with a lollipop stuck to his head who constantly vomits, and if you’ve ever lived in a city, you absolutely know this pigeon. The birds are the highlight of this movie. You didn’t know you wanted to see a comedy starring pigeons, did you? You need to rethink your life now, don’t you?
It’s easy to get invested in the relationship between Walter and Lance. The vocal chemistry between Tom Holland and Will Smith is so endearing that you’ll find yourself hoping they’ll end up doing a live-action buddy comedy together. Once you add in the crack team of government agents sent to recover Lance (Rashida Jones, Karen Gillan, and DJ Khaled), plus middling bad guy Kimura (Masi Oka), the charm washes away any doubt you might have had from the first third of the film. Indeed, Spies in Disguise would have benefited from embracing the silliness right from the outset.
The message Walter ultimately teaches Lance is that violence isn’t the way to solve the world’s problems and that hurting people ends up making them want to hurt others. Yes, this is aimed at children, but it’s a lovely message to hear when we can’t wake up without a dozen frightening news alerts on our phones. It might come off as a bit saccharine for adults, but it would be so nice to live in a world where you believe that kids might take this message to heart and go fix things.
Some of the gags are a bit silly and some of the jokes are super predictable puns, but it doesn’t take away from the charm. Honestly, the film would have worked without Lance turning into a pigeon, but hey, Will Smith can win anyone over, even in animated avian form. Killian the villain with a robot arm isn’t quite fleshed out, though Ben Mendelsohn’s voice just oozes dastardly intent. Overall, Spies In Disguise is a fun ride. It’s worth waiting out the iffy beginning to see where it all goes.