Spies In Disguise

Dept. of Cartoon Transmogrifications


There is a cardinal rule that all the great animations adhere to. The famous actor you get for the role, cannot outshine the character he or she is portraying. Think Toy Story. When you hear “There’s a snake in my boot!” or “To infinity, and beyond!”, you don’t see Tom Hanks or Tim Allen. You see Woody and Buzz.

“Oh you…”

Another great example is Soul, Pixar’s upcoming animated feature. The main voice you hear in the trailer is of Joe, voiced by Jamie Foxx. (The dancing blob is Tina Fey.) Again, the voices don’t throw you because it isn’t Jamie Foxx or Tina Fey. It’s Joe Gardner and 22. 

A Pixar animated feature about a jazz pianist? You son of a bitch, I’m in.

So, when the first trailer for the new Fox animated feature Spies in Disguise was released, with Will Smith front and center, being all Will Smith in animated form, I was sure I wasn’t going to like it. It felt like a gimmick. Look! We have Will Smith! Being a Will Smith spy! In a cartoon! Give me your money!

Here was where I broke what (should be) the cardinal rule of movie reviewing. I went into a movie with the surety that I was not going to enjoy it. That I would hate the movie. And you know what, I did. Will Smith was so Will Smith that it was hard to not see the character for the actor. He was a suave Mike Lowrey in cartoon form. It was distracting.

At least for the first 20 minutes. 

Lance Sterling in Spies in Disguise driving his custom Audi RSQ e-tron
Smith, Will “Lance Sterling” Smith.

But once the story takes off, boy was I wrong. Spies in Disguise was a laugh-a-minute story about a fight-fire-with-fire spy and a make-love-not-war scientist from his agency. As you see in the trailer, hilarity ensues when Will Smith’s Lance Sterling is turned into a pigeon by Tom Holland’s Walter Beckett. Sterling then has to learn how to work in a team, as well as being a pigeon, to solve a country hopping case.

That’s it.

What the directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno do with that simple story, however, is what makes the difference. The comedy throughout the movie was enough to keep the cinema full of young children and adults laughing, with a refreshing story of pacifism thrown in for good measure. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but at a time when big studio animated features are full of heart and feelings (think Up, Inside Out and Frozen), it was nice to watch an animated feature that had a story to tell, that still put comedy front and centre. This isn’t a Minions cash grab designed to sell toys and t-shirts to children. This was an action comedy in animated form. 

To the credit of the directors, once Will Smith turned into a pigeon, it was much easier to ignore the fact that said pigeon was Will Smith. Tom Holland, Rashida Jones and Ben Mendelsohn melted seamlessly into their animated parts. But a cartoon Will Smith pigeon, that was straight-up hilarious.

Pigeon Lance Sterling in Spies in Disguise
And oh so cute!

With the movie’s release having been pushed back three times, and the sale of 20th Century Fox to Disney, it remains to be seen whether or not there will be a sequel to Spies in Disguise. I for one, however, wouldn’t mind another caper with Will Smith’s Lance Sterling and Tom Holland’s Walter Beckett.

Spies In Disguise
102 minutes
Director: Troy Quane and Nick Bruno
Writers: Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor
Story: Cindy Davis
Cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled, and Masi Oka

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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