Written by Connor Noonan
Holiday movie season is in full swing, with studios releasing their largest tentpole films to keep audiences busy, including Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker already dominating the box office, and certain to rule the galaxy for a few weeks afterward. But as the world awaits the flashiest Christmas present of the year, Blue Sky Animation’s Spies in Disguise is the perfect stocking stuffer, the gift that you never knew you wanted.
Spies in Disguise answers the age-old question: what if James Bond was a pigeon? The premise alone is enough to coax out a smile, and the film hardly lets up on the giggles. When world-famous super-spy Lance Sterling finds himself on the run from his own agency, he is forced to enlist the help of the geekiest (and most recently fired) member of his gadget R&D team. Even though genius inventor Walter Beckett and Lance Sterling are the ones saving the day, the real-life cast and crew of spies in Disguise prove themselves to be heroes in their own right. In their directorial debut, newcomers Troy Quane and Nick Bruno put together a wonderful cast, pushing each of them to play to their strengths. Tom Holland flexes his Spider-Man muscles to deliver Walter Beckett’s infectious optimism and excitement, which he can hardly contain when he finally finds himself in the middle of the action. Beckett’s affinity for pigeons and unmatched creativity lead Agent Lance Sterling into an adventure that’s nothing like he’s encountered before. Will Smith’s biting sarcasm and mega-cool persona somehow manage to make Sterling extremely likable and completely rude all at once. The unlikely duo shine in their misadventures as they try to clear Sterling’s name and escape capture, outwitting and outrunning agent Kappel and her team. Rashida Jones drives the story forward, but Karen Gillan and DJ Khaled are laugh-out-loud funny whenever they make an appearance as Kappel’s partners, “Eyes and Ears.”
While the exceptional cast performances turn Spies in Disguise into something greater than the sum of its parts, nothing exemplifies the spirit of the movie more than Walter Beckett and his inventions. Beckett adamantly refuses to believe Sterling’s mantra, “fight fire with fire.” instead designing his gadgets and gizmos with a more self-defense centered mindset. Beckett’s arsenal includes everything from the “inflatable hug” bubble shield to a kitty cat glitter bomb that
overwhelms the target with cuteness. The endless amounts of goofy spy gear make Spies in Disguise a masterclass in slapstick comedy. Kids will surely love the silliness of the Sterling and Beckett’s pigeon flock, whose antics keep the laughs coming over and over. Spies in Disguise truly never takes its foot off the gas when it comes to spy gags, including a few running jokes that work extremely well, despite being fairly predictable.
In fact, predictability is probably the biggest slight against the movie. The plot of Spies in Disguise is not particularly groundbreaking and doesn’t produce many scenes that truly stand out. The real stars of the movie are the hilarious gadgets and pigeon spy team, both of which save the day at every turn when Beckett and Sterling find themselves in trouble. The villain is largely nameless and faceless (literally using Sterling’s face as a disguise for much of the film), which makes the main conflict feel secondary to the relationship building between Sterling and Beckett. The movie has a great message about kindness and optimism that probably falls flat amidst the formulaic story.
Overall, Spies in Disguise could have the potential to exceed expectations. Although the Ice Age franchise has been the centerpiece of Blue Sky Studios, its relevance has melted down significantly over the two decades since the release of the first installment. Lucrative as they may have been, Blue Sky Studios is definitely in need of their next big hit, and Spies in Disguise could very well be the wildcard they’ve been looking for. Whether audiences respond well remains to be seen, as this movie could just as easily turn out to be a forgettable “watch it on Netflix eventually” flop. Perhaps the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland will drive audiences enough to create some buzz, or perhaps the top-heavy holiday lineup will overshadow this quirky comedy. But Lance Sterling and Walter Beckett certainly have enough in the tank for more spy adventures, and it seems that Beckett will never run out of creative gadgets to explore.
Spies in Disguise is now playing in theaters