On Christmas, Fox Searchlight will be releasing a new animated family movie, Spies in Disguise. Based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 animated short “Pigeon: Impossible,” Spies tells the story of secret agent Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith), the world’s greatest spy. Think James Bond with a bigger ego. When he’s framed as a traitor while on a dangerous mission, he receives a burn notice and has to go on the run. With no resources and no contacts, the only person he can turn to is quirky young inventor Walter Beckett (voiced by Tom Holland) a genius whose dream is to invent weapons and gadgets that don’t hurt people, simply disable or distract them.
The only problem? Walter has, uh…accidentally turned Lance into a pigeon. The former superspy has to learn how to navigate his new wings while Walter attempts to reverse the formula, all while globe-hopping in order to take down the villain, Killian (voiced by go-to bad guy actor Ben Mendelsohn), and clear Lance’s name.
So is the action-adventure movie worth seeing in theaters? Is the Will Smith-Tom Holland combo a winning one? Here are three reasons to see the surprisingly delightful flick when it hits theaters on Christmas Day.
1. Dynamic & Kinetic Fight Choreography
For as much as superhero movies are all about the action, their fights are always kind of stale thanks in large part to the sameness of CGI and the physical limitations of human stunt actors, even with wire work. CGI in live-action has advanced what’s possible with visuals in a huge way, but the more inhumanly a character moves, the more its limitations are exposed. Fully CGI characters can feel intangible in a way actual actors feel solid, or move in patterns that don’t quite bend physics in a believable way – feet don’t quite touch the ground, jumps and landings are jerky, etc.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find that Spies in Disguise has no such issues, combining cinematic camerawork with the unlimited freedom of animation. Even though Lance and Walter are but human, the wackiness of Walter’s gadgets and Lance being in pigeon mode for much of the movie requires a kinetic sort of movement that can’t be achieved in live-action. At least, a movement not achieved so fluidly without animation. The movie is bright, with colors that pop in different palettes, from the bubblegum pink of an escape in Mexico City to the stark red-and-black scheme of Killian’s lair. Action sequences are visually arresting, capturing exactly what you’d hope a fictional spy could achieve with crazy gadgets packed with unexpected surprises or a team-up against an army of drones. Honestly, it’s just fun, and you can’t ask for more in a family movie.
2. Will Smith & Tom Holland Bring The Charm
When voice actors do a movie together, they rarely meet, instead performing their work alone in sound booths on separate dates. Such was the case with Will Smith and Tom Holland, who only met in person at the premiere. At times, this shows – some of the exchanges between them are a little awkward, the timing just a bit off – nothing most would notice, but something you pick up on if you know how these parts are recorded. But the natural charm of the two leads more than makes up for any tiny blips on the radar; both Holland and Smith are two of the most charismatic actors out there. Even if they’re in a bad movie (Holland has yet to be in his young career, but Smith certainly has been), it’s still easy to like them – and Spies in Disguise is very much not a bad movie.
As Lance Sterling, Smith brings the cocksure swagger that we’ve come to know and embrace from him. But equally a trademark of Smith is his ability to drop the jokey, cocky act and reveal layers of vulnerability and real emotion, and as they grow closer, Lance certainly reveals more of that side of himself to Walter. Likewise, Holland always exudes a nerdy, boyish earnestness that is impossible not to warm to. Walter might be a bit of an outcast and “weird,” but he’s the kind of weird that the world needs more of.
3. It Has A Good Message For Kids
Certain genres aren’t exactly known for nuanced stories. Spy movies, action movies, comic book movies, all tend to have two clear sides: the good guys and the bad guys. But Spies in Disguise explores a storyline I’ve not seen outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: What happens if the zealotry of the good guys is what creates more bad guys? It’s a question explored through the triplicate lens of Walter, Lance, and Killian. Lance is adamant that bad guys have to be taken down no matter the consequences – wiped out, eradicated, shown no mercy. He’s lived a hard life and lost good people and his capacity for forgiveness or compassion is limited. Walter argues there’s a different way. Their weapons don’t have to kill or destroy but can incapacitate and distract long enough to get the bad guys into custody; killing doesn’t have to be the only way. Killian reveals the seeds of his grand plan to destroy the spy agency were planted years ago when his entire team got wiped out in a showdown with Lance and the other agents – they might have been “bad” guys, but they were still his people.
It’s a fascinating and necessary lesson threaded into a kids’ movie, the idea that there are always multiple sides to a story and that we should show compassion, even to our enemies or those on the “other” side. It’s certainly a timely message and one that’s refreshing to see in a movie about good guys taking down a bad guy. More nuanced storylines like this, please – in all movies, not just those aimed at kids.
Spies in Disguise is in theaters on Christmas Day. Get tickets here.