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Review: Spies in Disguise

December 23, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The latest film from Blue Sky Studios, and the first to be released by Disney following the Fox merger, the long-delayed flick Spies in Disguise is an animated action comedy that follows the adventures of Lance Sterling (Will Smith), a superstar spy who gets turned into a pigeon by whizz kid scientist Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) and, well, it’s a bit of an odd bird.

The film stars the voices of two major actors who have already appeared in some of Disney’s biggest hits of the year – Smith as the Genie in the Aladdin remake, and Holland as Spider-Man in Avengers: Endgame – and the studio is releasing it on Christmas Day, a week after their own ready made blockbuster Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which is sure to beat it at the box office.

While Disney has been marketing it extensively, there is still a bit of a feeling like the Mouse House isn’t quite sure to do with this animated movie that doesn’t come from their own animation division or from the folks at Pixar, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at times, either. The film offers an agreeable if ultimately fairly forgettable mix of action sequences, slapstick humour and bird jokes that at times hints at something darker and more emotional while never really going there. But it does have much more talk about cloacas and bird anatomy than I was ever expecting, so that’s something, I guess.

The story begins with the cocky Lance Streling being framed by a weapons dealer (Ben Mendelsohn) who has stolen his identity, and getting fired by the agency where he works. With a warrent out for his arrest, the disgraced spy escapes to the home of Walter Beckett, a young outcast who tinkers away at inventing the gadgets that Sterling uses in the field, and is trying to find a kinder and gentler way of doing business, creating things such as “inflatable hugs” and glitter bombs that project cat videos.

Walter’s latest invention that he is working on is a serum that can turn people into pigeons as a form of disguise, since the birds reside in all of the major cities around the world and are able to easily blend in, being mostly ignored as pests. When Sterling accidentally drinks the potion, he transforms into a bird, leaving him racing against time to prove his innocence and thwart a major global attack, as Walter tries to invent something that will turn him back into a human.

A week after seeing Spies in Disguise, I was reminded of its existence when I saw an ad for the film and remarked to someone “oh yeah, I did see that movie,” having barely given it a second thought since the screening. This is not to say that the film is entirely forgettable, but it didn’t exactly stick in my mind for very long, either. It’s completely undemanding, thoroughly predictable, and totally safe. But none of these things make it bad, mind you, and when I was nine years old and obsessed with spies, I probably would have loved this movie. Which I guess sort of counts as a recommendation.

There are some fun action sequences here, and the animation is technically strong throughout. Smith and Holland bring enough of their own personalities to their vocal performances, with the former oozing his signature charisma and the latter being right at home playing a goodhearted, pacifistic nerd, to make their characters appealing. It’s far from the best animated movie of the year, and isn’t even in the upper tier of Blue Sky’s own output, but Spies in Disguise is still mildly entertaining, and if all you’re looking for is something fast-paced and action packed to watch with the family, it does the job.

Spies in Disguise opens on Wednesday in theatres across Canada.

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