Released: 1st January
Seen: 28th January
In 2009, Lucas Martell released a short animated film called Pigeon: Impossible. The short was simple, a secret agent sits on a bench about to eat a bagel when a pigeon comes by to take it, there are some mishaps with a computer in a briefcase and a whole lot of slapstick comedy. It’s a pretty fun little short film that clearly caught the attention of some people at BlueSky Animation because that little short film directly inspired this little animated spy comedy and in doing so created a genuinely fun little film that just oozes with charm.
Super secret agent Lance (Will Smith) is a legendary spy who is known for getting the job done no matter the obstacles thrown his way. He’s soon put into the line of fire, however, when a mysterious man with a metal claw does a whole bunch of crime while using a piece of technology to disguise himself as Lance, framing the secret agent. Now on the run, Lance runs to the only tech person that he knows, Walter (Tom Holland) to try and get help. Walter offers to help turn Lance invisible but it turns out he wasn’t literal. Through a series of mishaps, Lance ends up accidentally drinking a substance that turns him into a pigeon. Now not only does Lance need to clear his name of all wrongdoing, but he also needs to keep Walter alive and safe so he can make an antidote and turn Lane back into a human. Along the way, they’ll learn the meaning of friendship and tackle the complex nature of masculinity and how you don’t need to solve every problem with wanton violence.
That’s right, this film is all about that most misunderstood phrase… Toxic Masculinity. Lance is the embodiment of that idea, a cocky as hell loner who believes his way is the right way and his way just happens to involve large amounts of gratuitous violence. His entire arc revolves around him slowly learning to think a little more like Walter, who keeps trying to invent things that will solve the conflict without actually killing anyone. This idea is elevated when Lance is turned into a pigeon meaning that he can’t do the kind of thing he used to do, forcing him to actually find ways to beat the bad guy that aren’t lethal. It also embraces the idea that being a little weird can be a positive thing since Walter’s entire arc is that his inventions keep getting him called weird and you can see how it hurts him, but his weirdness is also the key to saving the world. This is a great bit of subtext to hopefully get kids to embrace who they are, weird little traits and all.
Since we have to use a spoonful of sugar to help the messages go down, the film leans heavily on slapstick that feels reminiscent of classic Looney Tunes, a lot of things going splat and over the top reactions. Every one of these physical jokes is sold wonderfully by the animation team who create a look that’s bright and enjoyable and creative. Clearly aiming for a younger audience, they rely more on visual gags for the desired reaction. There are some pretty funny verbal jokes, a lot of puns or dramatic reactions (as in “Why am I eating off the ground and why is it amazing!”) but they aren’t quite as good as the slapstick stuff. It utilises the classic idea of throwing everything at the wall to try and see what sticks, so if one joke doesn’t work for you then another one’ll be along in a second to try and get you and it kind of works, certainly a lot better than it should.
In general, I enjoyed Spies in Disguise when I was watching it, it was a bright, fun bombastic dose of sugar that hit all the right places and kept me entertained for a few hours but as I sit here typing about it… it’s really good, but it’s not much more than that. It’s not even like there’s anything obviously bad about it, I’d almost prefer it if there was some moment that stood out as bad but there isn’t because everything is just good and never pushes all the way to great. I like the ideas behind the film, the cast is a lot of fun and the designs are nice but in the end, it’s just a really good film instead of a great one. I would probably point to this one if you were to ask me what current movie you should be dragging the kids too because not only will they enjoy all the bright colours and silly slapstick but you’ll probably have fun to, but it’s not going to be up there with any of the greats. It’s really quite good, and sometimes that’s just enough.