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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spies in Disguise is an animated buddy comedy featuring the voices of Will Smith as Lance Sterling, a Bond-like American superspy, and Tom Holland as Walter Beckett, a gadget-happy inventor. After Lance accidentally drinks Walter's invisibility concoction and is turned into a pigeon, the odd-couple duo must work together to save the world from a frightening villain who's using Lance's face to commit criminal acts. There are lots of action sequences involving spy gear and weapons, as well as some life-or-death scenes in which it looks like all is (almost) lost. One character loses a parent; it happens off screen, and no details are discussed, but the emotional impact is felt. The physical comedy includes some rude humor (jokes about bird genitalia, for example), and there's a long scene in which a large, tattooed villain's naked behind is visible a few times. A female pigeon frequently flirts with Lance in his bird form. The chemistry between the voice actors is great, and the film has worthy messages about teamwork and accepting help from others. And for all the action, the movie also clearly promotes nonviolent (or at least nonlethal) means of negotiating with and stopping criminals.
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What's the story?
SPIES IN DISGUISE is an animated spy thriller about two very different men. Suave master spy Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith) is known for not mussing his tuxedo while taking down international criminals, while awkward Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) is a young, brilliant inventor who creates spy gear. When a mysterious terrorist is able to use tech to disguise himself as Agent Sterling while committing violent crimes, Lance turns to Walter for help and unexpectedly drinks a newly perfected serum that looks like water. But the invisibility concoction doesn't make Sterling disappear: Instead, it turns him into a pigeon. While in bird form, Lance must team up with Walter as his new/unlikely partner in order to take down the face-stealing mastermind.
Is it any good?
Smith and Holland have great buddy-comedy chemistry and give this weird-in-a-good-way animated adventure a charming, crowd-pleasing vibe. Blue Sky Animation has an impressive track record with animal-focused comedies (four Ice Age films and two Rio movies), and Spies in Disguise continues the studio's streak with the wacky twist of Smith's smooth-talking agent turning into a talking blue pigeon (complete with a tiny tuxedo bow-tie tattoo). Some of the humor may go over very young viewers' heads, but tweens will appreciate the pigeon anatomy jokes, as well as the dark, drone-obsessed adversary (Ben Mendelsohn, who's quite comfortable playing villains and can sound quite chilling).
Although the two leads work mostly as a duo, the talented supporting cast includes Reba McEntire as Sterling's unit director, Rashida Jones as an internal affairs investigator (who believes Sterling has turned traitor), and Karen Gillan and DJ Khaled as her well-intentioned but misguided team. The Mark Ronson-produced soundtrack prominently features Rob Base's "It Takes Two" (for the Gen X parents), "Rocket Fuel" by DJ Shadow and De La Soul, "Fly" by Lucky Daye, and other high-energy tracks. But what really elevates this story is Walter's insistence on nonviolence (or at least nonlethal violence), creating gadgets and tech that focus on distracting and humanizing enemies with glitter-and-kitten bombs and other adorable innovations. The movie's sweet, heartwarming message of peace and understanding is one everyone could use.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the positive messages in Spies in Disguise. What does Lance learn about peaceful negotiation thanks to Walter? Why is it important not to be casually OK with violence, even if it's for government reasons?
What are your favorite buddy movies? Why do you think the genre works, particularly in action/adventure? What are some of your favorite examples? Why are the buddies usually "odd couples" with very different personalities, strengths, and styles?
Do you think there's potential for a sequel to this movie? If so, what would you like to see more of in the story?
- In theaters: December 25, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: March 10, 2020
- Cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones
- Directors: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Character strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action, violence, and rude humor
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 10, 2020
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