Any time Fox/Blue Sky Studios releases a new animation movie to be a part of their filmography, I can see it being hit-or-miss. Because they aren’t on par with something like Pixar or DreamWorks, a lot of their movies are just catered to children. A few I’ve enjoyed from them in the past are the first Ice Age, Rio, Horton Hears a Who, and The Peanuts Movie. With their latest addition in Spies in Disguise, being the first Blue Sky movie after the Disney acquisition, it’s hard to tell if it will help the movie be better than it should’ve, but it proved to be a fun adventure for the family to enjoy.
What’s the Story: Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is the world’s greatest secret agent working for H.T.U.V. (Honor, Trust, Unity, and Valor), and he knows his way around getting through any situation. He’s accidentally transformed into a pigeon by a young scientist named Walter (voiced by Tom Holland), who’s labeled as weird by his colleagues, after drinking his latest experiment. Now that they’re on the run from the government, the two of them must work together to stop a cybernetic terrorist named Killian (voiced by Ben Mendelsohn) and save the world.
Was I looking forward to this? Even with whom was involved, not really. The trailers didn’t necessarily do anything to persuade me to see it, and it was mostly because some of us didn’t expect Smith’s character to be turned into a pigeon, feeling like a left turn that came out of nowhere. To make sense of it, this movie is loosely based on the short Pigeon: Impossible by Lucas Martell. Troy Quane and Nick Bruno make their feature directorial debuts here and an enjoyable family movie topped with Bond-like action that’s appropriate for the young to like, a pretty killer soundtrack from Mark Ronson, and a message that’s good for its target audience to understand.
The star power of both Smith and Holland is enough to get people to get excited since Smith is one of the biggest actors working today, and Holland is still the current symbol of Spider-Man. I got to give credit to the animation designers for making their animated counterparts look and act like them. The dynamic chemistry between the two is a big levity throughout, and it made me care about the characters themselves, even if one character’s a geeky human and the other’s a pigeon with a cocky attitude. Also, it’s been a long time since Smith did animation work, and we’re grateful to have this instead of Shark Tale. The rest of the voice talents boasts themselves perfectly without overstaying their welcome, which includes the likes Rashida Jones as the internal affairs agent pursuing Lance, Karen Gillan and DJ Khaled as Eyes and Ears, specialists who use their tech to great use, and Reba McEntire as the head of the organization.
After the first half where there was this sense of feeling like it will be a waste of time, that was when it was funny and made me lean into the story a bit more. The charm was pulling through afterward. As for the laughs, they were about as consistent as it can get. They aimed some jokes as kids, while I can think of a few that targeted adults, whether it’s a moment of showing someone’s behind or bleeping out a word. It was funny, but it took me off guard. There was one moment that had me laugh for a good solid minute.
With a concept like this, this could’ve gone into the ridiculous territory and not make any sense for a family movie. However, it’s safe to say it invested me with how the story was going to play out and hoping Lance and Walter would take down this threat. It also works well as a spy movie with the display of over-the-top action moments and the gadgets that would be fun to test, and it actually felt like there was a good amount of stakes founded.
Predictable? Did you expect any real surprises to come from here? We’re introduced to Walter’s backstory in the beginning, and a part of me hoped it would not go down that rabbit hole, but it did. But the story doesn’t exactly bring anything emotional to the table and might’ve enjoyed having better writing during a few occasions. Mendelsohn is pretty much Hollywood’s answer to playing the villain. Talk about typecasting. Though his voice work isn’t anything to complain about, I didn’t think they fleshed his character of Killian out to the point of finding him threatening when he appeared the bad guy that gives a justifiable reason to hate Lance halfway through.
Spies in Disguise isn’t going to be remembered as one of the greatest animated movies to come out of 2019, but it came as a shocker to know it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and it’s one of Blue Sky’s best in a few years. Fast-paced enough to let its young target audience be entertained and carried through the vocal performances of Smith and Holland, respectively, it’s packed with fun action and humor that’s easy to digest and get some enjoyment out of.