American animated films of late have been largely falling into a trap of either making things overtly schmaltzy or way too preachy or too frantic to be able to say anything at all. Seldom we get to see the days where movies like The Lion King, Shrek, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Coraline, Kung Fu Panda, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Wallace & Gromit, How to Train Your Dragon, Wall-E or The Jungle Book, which beautifully combine emotion, enlightenment and entertainment sans going overboard in any one department, so much so that even their sequels can't replicate the same magic and studios are busy in live-action, CGI-fuelled remakes of these classics due to lack of good ideas.
It's utterly rare when a Zootopia or a Lego Movie or a Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse comes along to break the rut. So, does Spies in Disguise do enough to break into this exclusive list? Well, let's just say for now that while it doesn't tug at your heart strings or have a deep message, it's at least a whole lot of fun without having to dumb things down and even managed to make a point or two along the way.
What's it about
Spies in Disguise thrusts together super-spy Lance Sterling ( Will Smith) — dashing, daring, debonair — and scientist Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) — bumbling, fumbling, nerdy — who works in the weapons division of Sterling's agency. The two, who couldn't be more opposite to each other, discover how they have more to offer each other than they'd have thought while needing to have each other's backs in a quest to save the world. Oh, and there's the little matter of Sterling being forced to understand Beckett's value and try and give his subtler, more compassionate methods a shot after being accidentally mutated into one of the scientists' genome-altered pigeons.
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Admittedly the plot is bonkers, but that's the beauty of it. Writers Brad Copeland, Lloyd Taylor and Cindy Davis have put in all their conviction while penning the script while Director-duo Troy Quane and Nick Bruno make excellent use of the animated setting and espionage setup to execute their writers' vision to the T, bringing to us a sort of James Bond or Mission Impossible version for kids that packs enough thrills for even the adults to enjoy. Editors Randy Trager and Christopher Campbell keep things snappy just like any good animated film should be (unless it's made by Japanese auteur Hayao Miyazaki, dishing out giddily entertaining high art in the form of animation) and the CGI is impressive as hell (though that's no surprise given the budgets these chaos have at their disposal).
However, it's the delectable chemistry and crackling banter between the two leads, Will Smith and Tom Holland, that eventually elevates the film higher than where it may have otherwise ended up. Among their voiceover colleagues, the ever-reliable Rashida Jones and Ben Mendelsohn once again prove their dependency.
As fun as the film is and as subtly as the messages are interspersed, Spies in Disguise would have done well to have applied the same logic to its political agenda by simply leaving out any such agenda. The Millenial attitude of treating everyone and everything with kid gloves and the hipster naivete of giving even the biggest of scumbags the benefit of the doubt gets nauseating at times and are the only aspects that somewhat mat a perfectly pleasant watch.
All things considered, Spies in Disguise checks most boxes when it comes to balancing a pretty delightful animated venture for kids and adults like. You could do far worse when it comes to family fare this holiday season. I'm going with 3.5 out of 5 stars.
3.5 out of 5
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