Spies in Disguise, by Cameron J. Czaja

The last week of December is probably one of my favorite weeks of the year because not only do we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we start to get a lot more movies coming out, some of them I’ve been anticipating for a while. This week I saw two new films, but the one I’m going to focus on was the one that was a definite surprise to me, and that is Spies in Disguise. I thought about talking about the other film that I saw, which was Uncut Gems, but because of Playmobil: The Movie I felt like I wanted to review at least one good animated film before at the end of the year. So how much of a surprise was it? As usual, let’s find out.

In Spies in Disguise we follow Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith) is a spy for an organization based in Washington, D.C. He’s great at his job but he does have a bit of arrogance to him and prefers to go it alone when completing missions. One day after he completes a mission he gets accused of being a double agent, which forces him to go on the run. From there he has to team up with a young scientist named Walter Beckett (voiced by Tom Holland), who devises a formula that could change anyone into a different creature. Unknowingly, Lance consumes Walter’s new substance and is immediately transformed into a pigeon (hence the name of the film, Spies in Disguise). With the agency on their tail, the two must track down who framed Lance and stop them from planning their next move.

Now if you’re wondering what other animated film this sounds like (and it didn’t come to me at first), it is basically The Emperors New Groove mixed with a James Bond film (specifically Skyfall). Was Spies in Disguise as good as those? If I had to be honest, not really. But like I said, I was surprised and here are my reasons.

From the trailer alone I thought the protagonists in Spies in Disguise were going to be nothing but obnoxious characters that were there just for cheap laughs and over-the-top highjinks, and for the most part it was looking like it was settling for those kinds of humor. As the film went along, however, the two leads (especially Tom Holland‘s character) developed a complexity that I did not predict and I found myself really enjoying it. While he doesn’t show any religious affiliations, I definitely saw Walter taking the fifth commandment very seriously as he approaches enemies through a defensive strategy in contrast to Lance’s offense approach. Throughout the film, the chemistry between them starts the grow as Lantz (while in pigeon mode) starts adopting Walter’s approach to fighting enemies. Along with the complexity, another thing that I was fond of when watching this film was the animation. I’ve stated in the past how much I’m a fan I am when it comes to animated films and while this may not be my favorite one to come from this genre this year, it’s definitely one that I appreciated. This is thanks to the animation company, Blue Sky Studios, who have a reputation for making quality films that you don’t see coming.

If I had any complaints about Spies in Disguise, they are minor but noticeable. As I mentioned earlier, this is a film about a spy and it felt it was obligated to put in the cliché moments you would expect to see in any spy film. It sounds like I’m nitpicking, but to me I feel like the genre has been done to death so many times and when you’re not bringing anything new to the table you start to lose my interest. It was one cliché moment after another. Despite that, however, I feel like this movie earns sympathy because it sort of explains why Walter has a more defensive approach to life.

Will Spies in Disguise be a great animated film I will look back on years to come? Most likely not. But the film had a sense of charm and complexity to the main characters that were something I didn’t expect, and I always love coming to films of not being able to have that predictability. I just hope if they make a sequel it’s not as bad as I thought this movie was going to be.

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