Review by Sean Boelman
The latest film from animation studio Blue Sky (the Ice Age series), Spies in Disguise is an energetic new action-comedy based on the short film Pigeon: Impossible. Thanks to a witty script and an excellent voice ensemble, this is a wonderful movie for families this holiday season and perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the year.
The film follows a secret agent who, after being accused of going rogue, is turned into a pigeon by a young scientist and must stop the evil mastermind who has framed him. As one would expect, this plays out like a self-referential version of Mission: Impossible. Although the beats of the story aren’t remotely unpredictable, the silliness will keep the kiddos entertained and their older companions will be amused by the tongue-in-cheek approach.
Much of the movie’s humor is either slapstick or fish-out-of-water comedy, the latter of which is particularly hilarious. The idea of a wise-cracking secret agent turning into a pigeon is pretty ingenious, and the writers do a great job of milking that premise for all of its jokes without leaving it feeling like it has been worn too thin.
As is the case with many films aimed at younger audiences, the pacing can get to be a bit much at times, but the narrative momentum is frequently irresistible. By jumping from action sequence to action sequence as any live-action spy movie would jump from set piece to set piece, the film is successful both as a globe-trotting actioner and a parody of the genre.
A majority of the movie’s emotional arc comes from the scientist sidekick character voiced by Tom Holland, and while he is a necessary and effective part of the film, Will Smith’s secret agent often steals the show. An endlessly charming conglomeration of the traits of all of the best action movie spies, Lance Sterling is a compelling protagonist and audiences will likely be clamoring to see him in more avian adventures.
Smith’s casting as the arrogant hero who gets caught outside of his comfort zone is absolutely perfect. The amount of fun he is having voicing this character is evident, and it helps make the film a lot more enjoyable. Holland also does a very good job in his role, although there isn’t much comedy given to him. Other standouts include Ben Mendelsohn as the villain and Rashida Jones as an internal affairs agent chasing the protagonists.
On a visual level, the animation is pretty strong, but one would expect no less from Blue Sky. Perhaps the best part of this film’s style is the world-building. Though there are some real-life points of reference, the animation for the movie’s settings is as amazing as the location scouting and set design for its live-action counterparts.
Spies in Disguise doesn’t have the most original storyline, but because of the unique approach that the filmmakers take to these familiar tropes, the result is immensely entertaining. It may have seemed unlikely that a film about pigeon spies would have been this good, but it is.
Spies in Disguise hits theaters on Christmas Day.