Sunday, 5 January 2020

Review: Spies In Disguise

Spies In Disguise
Cert: PG / 102 mins / Dir. Troy Quane & Nick Bruno / Trailer

Reader, I seem to have two states of mind when it comes to non-Disney studio animation movies. I'm either viewing the trailer for some saccharine nightmare and rolling my eyes at the caption-card listing which musical artists appear on the soulless, thumping soundtrack, as if the inclusion of sanitised, corporate techno could lend the feature any more individuality - or I'm watching an actual movie in 2020 with Snow's Informer and Rob Base's It Takes Two in the soundtrack, in which a character makes a scripted reference to the members of New Kids On The Block while I'm thinking ' this an old person's idea of what a young person's movie sounds like?'.

As you know by now, there is no pleasing me.


So, failing to please me today is Blue Sky Studios' latest offering, Spies In Disguise. Based on an idea from an award-winning animated short from a decade ago, it's effectively a body-swap / odd-couple comedy, set against the backdrop of a spy-caper. Will Smith and Tom Holland provide the central voices, and it's fine. By which I mean the animation is bang-on-standard (shiny but bland), the rest of the voice-cast are interchangeable with similar jobbing actors*1 and while the central message of pacifism in a violent world is by no means a bad thing, it's rammed home so ham-fistedly that this derails any genuine nuance or debate on the subject*2.

It's absolutely Fine™.

The best moments arise from Smith's Agent Lance Sterling as he's transformed into a pigeon and undergoes a comedic Cronenbergian psychological duality-shift to match. Although he's a pigeon who can actually talk, he also understands other pigeons and begins to make friends with them, with some newly-avian mannerisms filtering through to Sterling's human form after a species-reversal in the finale. This is arguably far more interesting than the spy-flick.


Unfortunately, the editing process seems to have provided a bumpy road to the cinema. There's a 'pigeons can't see glass' routine from the one of the film's trailers*3 which has been completely excised from the completed movie, so that when this is used several times as a punchline there's no preceding set-up. This isn't the worst gaffe a film could make, but it's indicative of the haphazard final product. By the time this reaches its third-act, the cumulative effect of all the characters and plot threads waiting to be tied up results in what can only be described as an incoherent crescendo.

Blue Sky Studios have been dining out on Ice Age for too long, now. Don't get me wrong, Spies In Disguise is basically okay, but it's a well-meaning Happy Meal of a movie; the young ones will be attracted by the bright colours, additives and play-value, and it won't poison those taking them along for the outing. It's short-term energy for a day out, but you couldn't live on it. Nor would you want to...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Pretty much any mid-tier animation of the last ten years.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If your padawans are tugging at your sleeve, you could do worse.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Although the last twenty minutes of this movie is pretty much white-noise, so there could be one in there

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Orson Krennic is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 While Ben Mendelsohn always gives a spirited performance, the likeness of super-villain Killian (solid name, guys) matches the actors voice is precisely no way. Karen Gillan is also on hand as kooky tech-sleuth Eyes, with a volume of dialogue suggesting it was recorded in a ten-minute session during post-production - they just wanted her name on the poster. [ BACK ]

*2 Namely in one surprisingly heartfelt scene, where Will Smith's "...because the bad guys don't care how nice you are" may be the wisest words of the entire movie, shortly to be lost in a fog of CGI glitter. [ BACK ]

*3 No, since you ask, I can't seem to find it on YouTube. Look, I've definitely seen it, it was definitely there at one point. I just don't want to waste more hours of my life watching more of Spies In Disguise, thanks. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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