Cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn
Directors: Troy Quane, Nick Bruno
Well, it’s an animated movie that isn’t made by Disney or Dreamworks. This can only go one of two ways. Either this is a shameless cash grab that does nothing right or this will have something unique to carry it to the top of the genre. Spies in Disguise is weird, because it somehow falls in the middle of this spectrum. It definitely feels manufactured and generic, but at the same time the movie still manages to find a few moments of charm to carry it through the 102 minute runtime. Smart and funny but not at that spectacular level I was hoping for, Spies in Disguise fills a solid December animated spot and is a good movie for its intended audience.
The film follows Lance Sterling (voiced by Smith), also known to everyone he works with as the world’s greatest spy due to his track record of taking down bad guys and escaping death in the most spectacular ways possible. When Walter Beckett (voiced by Holland), an awkward scientist who works on inventions to increase friendship, accidentally turns Lance into a pigeon, the two must work together to get Lance back to normal while also stopping Killian (voiced by Mendelsohn) from carrying out his plan to eliminate Lance and his organization. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Spies in Disguise is far from the worst looking animated movie of the year. It’s clean, enjoyable, and can be absorbed by either the intended demographics or the parents that bring them there. Especially when you combine this animation with a stacked cast of voice actors who seem to be having a blast with their roles in this movie. I’m still amazed that Will Smith is a box office draw after all this time in the limelight and pairing him with a rising and recognizable star in Holland is great for the dynamics of this movie. Even people like Jones and Mendelsohn who have smaller roles do a very good job of adding something of value to the movie because of their performances. With all of that considered, Spies in Disguise is an entertaining movie, but it’s also a very predictable one. Sure it’s designed for people who may not see these things coming, but if you’ve ever seen an animated movie before you know basically every trope that’s going to happen before it happens. Maybe that’s why this movie didn’t do super well at the box office, but given that this movie came out in the thick of awards season and is competing against a bunch of other high-profile movies, maybe playing it safe was the best move. Animated movies that think outside the box open themselves up to a level of risk unprecedented to the genre, so maybe they thought to keep it simple and that it would pay off. It doesn’t appear to be the case, but that doesn’t mean Spies in Disguise is necessarily a bad movie. It just didn’t happen to work out in this specific case.
Overall, I think Spies in Disguise may be able to find a second life on streaming services where kids are more likely to consume this kind of content. For those who watched this in theaters, I think they can agree that it did its job and entertained the audiences in every screening. Not as strong as many of the other animated movies that came out this year, but Spies in Disguise is strong and funny enough to hold its own and ends up on the upper half of the genre for 2019. Those involved should be proud of their work, as this is the type of movie that I think will get more recognition over time.
Overall Score: 7/10