“Spies in Disguise” is an animated action comedy, “Mission: Impossible” with one-liners and sight gags galore. It’s a violent film with “there’s got to be a better (non-violent) way” messaging, a pretty funny torture joke and lots of written graphics.
So, maybe it’s not for LITTLE kids.
The casting for such a genre picture is “on the nose,” as we say. Will Smith as a suave, tux wearing spy? Sure. EveryVillain Ben Mendelsohn as the bad guy? Tom “Spider-Man” Holland as a manic gadget guru? Rashida Jones as leader of the team chasing the “gone rogue” spy around the world? You could leave out the animation and totally sell this package.
The only part that really needs animation is the fact that agent Lance Sterling (Smith) gets turned into a pigeon.
The plot — Sterling is trying to keep this super-secret/hunter-killer drone out of the hands of supervillains. He’s framed as a guy trying to steal it for himself, and that puts Marcy Kappel (Jones) and her Eyes (Karen Gillan of “Jumanji”) and Ears (DJ Khaled) team on his tail. His boss (Reba McEntire) can’t save him.
In the Bond-by-way-of-Tarantino opening gambit, Sterling takes on legions of Yakuza in a Japanese mobster’s lair. So he’s going to be difficult to catch.
Still, he has to turn to the gadget guy he got fired after the yakuza fight. Walter (Holland) has been inventing spyware since childhood, the film’s prologue shows us. His big ideas are all non-violent violence — a Kitty Glitter bomb to distract, well, EVERYbody because it’s a kitten image painted in glitter, air-bag gadgets to protect you when threated, etc.
That’s the conflict here. Sterling, with his “Evil doesn’t care if you’re nice” and “Can’t save the world with hugs” ethos, Walter with his “When we fight fire with fire, we both get burned” morality.
Their debate moves to the next level when Sterling, looking to “become invisible,” accidentally swallows Walter’s genetic mutation serum and becomes a version of Walter’s beloved pet — a pigeon. Sterling, who must circle the globe, knock heads and hunt down robot-handed heavy Killian (Mendelsohn), is appalled.
But Walter is an encyclopedia of counter-arguments. Pigeons ARE invisible. They’re everywhere, Mexico to Venice, “rats with feathers” who can reach speeds of 90 miles an hour, have 360 degree vision and are a lot smarter than you think.
It’s funny how the animators set out to do exaggerated versions of the “real” people voicing the characters, for the most part. The caricatures of Smith, Holland, Mendelsohn, McEntire and especially Rashida Jones are spot on, right down to eye color.
And like a live action spy comedy, there’s Audi product placement shoved in there, in cartoon form.
The violence isn’t entirely slapstick. And the jokes have an adult edge that will fly right by most kids. Walter, who accompanies Pigeon Sterling on his quest, comes up with his own spy name — “Bond. HYDROGEN bond!”
Sterling, Mr. “I fly SOLO,” isn’t keen on “team.”
“READ what used to be my LIPS!”
Battling the killer drone plays on a cute design similtarity, especially after Sterling’s covered its electronic eye.
“Not so easy NOW, is it Roomba?”
And then there’s the comic suggestion of water-boarding, served up when Sterling needs to extract information out of someone.
“I need a funnel, jumper cables and a NICKELBACK album!”
Smith’s easy way with a joke keeps the tone light, and for all the mayhem, this is still pretty fluffy and cute. It’s not “The Incredibles,” but it’s a reasonable and quite amusing facsimile.
And if the wee ones are going to grow up to be “Bond, JAMES Bond fans,” they’ve got to start somewhere.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action, violence, and rude humor
Cast: The voices of Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Reba McEntire, DJ Khaled, Karen Gillan and Ben Mendelsohn.
Credits: Directed by Nick Bruno, Troy Quane, script by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor. A Fox release, a Blue Sky film.
Running time: 1:41