Spies in Disguise Review: Surprisingly solid animated espionage that’s worth your time
Spies in Disguise, the new animated feature from Blue Sky Studios, is a surprisingly solid action espionage comedy that places Will Smith and Tom Holland in incredibly suitable roles and contains some interesting messaging about non-violence.
The film follows Lance Sterling (voiced by Smith), a debonair spy whose suave personality and specific set of skills make him a nightmare for villainous character looking to take over the world. Although he has plenty of charm, he’s also got plenty of narcissism and cynicism that makes get the job done, regardless of the destruction it might cost, to make his name. However, after he is framed by a mysterious villain (voiced by Ben Mendelsohn), he’s forced to go on the run from his agency as a determined IA agent (voiced by Rashida Jones) tries to take him in and only finds help from Walter (voiced by Holland), an intelligent tech wiz that Lance had fired from the agency. However, Walter’s gadgets not only don’t work with Lance’s style, but ending up turning Lance into a pigeon. With him being stuck in this unfortunately feathered form, Lance and Walter must work together to clear Lance’s name and save the world.
For those unaware of Blue Sky Studios, they actually have quite a high pedigree when it comes to animation as they’ve created huge hits like Ice Age and Rio. Spies in Disguise is definitely another strong showing for the studio as it’s beautifully and creatively animated. The action is very smooth and there’re some really fun sequences of Lance taking down an entire army of yakuza and flying fast through to escape the grasp of Mendelsohn’s Killian’s drones. Nothing compares to the unique and creative gadgets that Walter comes up with that I can only imagine what a blast it must’ve been to come up with these gadgets. From Walter’s glitter bomb that explodes into an incredible cloud of glitter and forms a picture of a cute cat to distract enemies to crazy kaleidoscope bomb that blinds anyone in mind-bending fashion, there’s a lot of creative animation that shouldn’t go unappreciated. Not to mention, Walter’s non-violent and colorful gadgets as play a big part into the film’s messages about violence.
Being solely focused on getting the job done, Lance never takes the damage he causes, or who he causes damage to, into account. Walter is the total opposite and believes that there’s always another way to do things in a non-violent way and that’s displayed in the gadgets he creates. This conflict and topic was actually surprising to see and handled in a way that’s suitable and even slightly meaningful for a younger audience. It’s not delved into with an immense amount of detail, but it’s definitely a strong part of the narrative that’s easy to connect to. It not only connects well to Killian’s motivation, which I thought was simple and effective, but makes Walter’s presence feel more than just being a side-kick to Lance. It also makes their relationship and conflict have more meaning and makes them more memorable beyond just their iconic voices.
Smith and Holland are definitely perfect fits for their roles, but it’s mostly because these are characters that are all too familiar to them. Walter is really just Peter Parker and that’s exactly how Holland plays him and you could honestly take your pick with how Smith plays Lance. Whether it’s the direction their given or their own choice, the familiarity is hard not to notice and took away from some of the originality of their characters. A lot of this does get made up, though, through the strong supporting cast of Mendelsohn, who’s just always great, Jones, and even Karen Gillan and DJ Khaled as Eyes and Ears – respectively. Together they elevate the hit or miss humor and the kind of ordinary story of Spies in Disguise.
The film is kind of what you would expect with a spy story – there’s action, secrets and lies, and even a really cool opening credits sequence. Even with all of the pigeon shenanigans, the film hits the marks you would expect and has the predictable jokes to go along with it. Personally, I wished that things would’ve been a little more surprising at times and that the pacing would’ve been a little better to keep the energy of the film going. However, it’s definitely far from boring and has plenty of fun story beats to entertain any viewer at any age.
Spies in Disguise is one of the more surprising films I’ve seen lately in the creative animation it offers and the pleasantly timely pacifist themes. It’s absolutely worth your time when you have the chance, either in theaters or on-demand, and further proves that Blue Sky Studios shouldn’t be forgotten about.