Jacob Richardson | 9/01/2019
The insanity and wild entertainment factor of the central conceit at the heart of Spies in Disguise never truly overcomes a relatively rote story structure and predictable plotting.
Walter (Tom Holland) is a technician for a super secret spy agency, whose job it is to make gadgets and gizmos for the world’s greatest spy - Lance (Will Smith). But Walter abhors guns and violence, so his gadgets tend to have a proclivity for the weird, wacky and wonderful; like kitten glitter bombs and harmless goo. When Lance is framed by the mysterious adversary Killan (Ben Mendelsohn), he goes to Walter for help making him disappear. Alas, Walter accidentally turns Lance into a walking, talking pigeon and now they have to team up to take down Killan and find a way to turn Lance back into a man.
Spies in Disguise has a premise that is so truly wild (Will Smith transformed into a spy pigeon) that you cannot help but be utterly intrigued. And for a while, particularly immediately after that transition, the film coasts along pretty easily on that intrigue. It’s as we inevitably see our heroes face the villain, fail, and then come back to succeed, that the predictability of the genre comes back to bite this movie.
Smith and Holland have some great chemistry together, with Holland’s weird and wild optimist being complemented by Smith’s explosion loving, suave spy. The voice cast is uniformly good, although it is a shame to see Mendelsohn again digging himself into the hole of villainous typecasting.
Visually, this is beautifully animated. The colours pop, and the mix of the cool steely palette when dealing with these super spies, and the more lively upbeat tone when dealing with the pigeons and humour elements of the film, makes for a frequently engaging picture. Even more so, the beautiful colour explosion of Walter’s inventions makes for a particularly absorbing visual feast.
In the end though, all of this adds up to a serviceable animation that doesn’t do anything truly special with its premise. These themes have been largely explored before, and more effectively, in other films - indeed, the whole ‘pacifist’ vibe is probably most recently and effectively pursued in the Despicable Me series (at least in terms of penetrating the cultural zeitgeist). Which is a shame, because this film in particular has such a strong, odd and strange central conceit - one wishes it was propagated through the tale more so.
Spies in Disguise is a perfectly serviceable piece of animation fare, but holds all the foundations of a particularly good film - which makes it a shame it never breaks its moulds of predictability.