The breezy and entertaining animated spoof “Spies in Disguise” is loosely based on the 2009 short “Pigeon: Impossible,” which is a much better title than “Spies in Disguise,” but in any case, here we go.
By any name, this is terrific family entertainment, arriving just in time for that holiday season moment when you want to get the kids out of the house and take them to a movie playing on something larger than the devices welded to their tiny hands.
This computer-animated adventure doesn’t have the visual warmth of a “Toy Story” or “Frozen” film — but it does have a certain appeal of its own. Nearly every scene pops with bright colors, and the characters have giant heads and big eyes, the better to convey their every emotion.
“Spies in Disguise” also benefits from the instantly recognizable voice and expert comic timing of Will Smith, as Lance Sterling, “the world’s most awesome spy,” and equally stellar performances from Tom Holland as a socially awkward tech genius who becomes his unlikely partner; Rashida Jones as an agent tasked with tracking down Sterling when it appears he’s gone rogue, and Reba McEntire as Sterling’s boss.
Tom Holland’s geeky Walter Beckett is the American equivalent of the gadget-inventing Q from the James Bond movies — only Walter’s innovations lean heavily toward the warm and cuddly, e.g., a glitter bomb that distracts the enemy with irresistible holograms of adorable kittens and a fast-inflatable protective bubble inspired by his late mom’s warm hugs.
Will Smith’s dashing, tuxedo-clad, cocky and self-absorbed super-spy is a legend in the field and is worshipped by his colleagues, to the point where they break into applause and ask for selfies when he drops in at the agency.
But Sterling’s world falls to pieces when he is framed as a traitor by the supervillain Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), who intends to use new technology to expose the identities and locations of every good-guy spy in the world and use an army of drones to track them down and eliminate them.
Yes, that’s a plot straight out of a live-action, grown-up spy thriller — but seeing as how Sterling mistakenly downs one of Walter’s potions and is transformed into a pigeon for the bulk of the story, and this is basically a body-switching comedy and buddy-cop movie parody wrapped around a spy spoof, the tone is almost always silly and light. And when things do get relatively heavy, the messaging is all about putting the greater good over individual glory, and the power of friendship and loyalty and trust.
There’s also a LOT of pigeon-based, gross-out, slapstick humor. Trapped inside a pigeon’s body, Sterling is horrified by his newfound appetite for garbage, not to mention his inability to control certain bodily functions — but he also learns certain advantages of being a pigeon.
For one thing, pigeons can fly at speeds up to 90 mph.
And yet I can’t get them to move two inches in a solid minute when they’re feasting on French fries on the sidewalk and couldn’t care less about blocking my path.