The animated family movie “Spies in Disguise” displays some of the strengths we associate with recent non-Disney animated films. “SID” was made for the Blue Skies label, so it is a Disney product. But it is not one of their widely promoted, big-budget offerings.
The film also has one of the weaknesses that often makes Disney’s cartoon movies into drags.
America’s No. 1 undercover operative is a fellow named Lance Sterling, whose voice is provided by Will Smith. He is after the contents of a suitcase that belonged to international arms dealer Kimura.
But Lance only snags the suitcase. The contents seem to have gone to a bionic villain (Ben Mendelsohn) with a grudge against our action hero.
Spy chief Jenkins (Reba McEntire) then hears from Internal Affairs officer Marcy (Rashida Jones). She has CCTV evidence that Lance (or someone who looks exactly like him) has the dangerous drone that was in the case.
She sets out to arrest the real Lance. He goes to one of the agency’s gizmo masters, a little geek named Walter Becket. Not Walter Becker, who co-wrote all those great Steely Dan songs. The current Spider-Man, Tom Holland, speaks for Becket.
Becket is a smart youngster, even if he isn’t a web projecting super hero or a ‘70s Rock star. How smart is he? “‘Jeopardy’ smart,” we’re told. So he knows a lot of facts.
The kid is enthusiastic about working with Sterling. But they emphasize different bents — Becket recoils from harming anyone, even a super villain. This is because his mother, a police officer, was killed at work.
“There’s no good guys or bad guys,” he will announce later in the film. “Just people.” One reminds oneself that the character is a kid, and then one sympathizes.
The sentiment isn’t played up all that much. But Officer Mom’s death is made known close to the climax of the action, which gives it a little additional power.
Then, too, Becket is kind of a klutz. He has invented a potion that Sterling drinks by mistake. It turns the big, athletic agent into a pigeon.
The duo get away from their pursuers in an Audi with an automatic pilot feature. Notice that even the animated movies can work in product placements in when they want to. They missed a chance by not offering Sapporo beer a chance to be Kimura’s favorite tipple.
This transformation of Lance into a bird gives our heroes some advantages as they escape the clutches of Marcy the rules enforcer, go to Japan to question the fat tub of tattooed goo Kimura, visit a typical Mexican beach resort, and zip off to Venice to try to recover the death star drone.
Along the way they pick up a “flock” of recognizable pigeons who sometimes surprise us by assisting our heroes. Adults with sensitive stomachs may find some of the pigeon comedy a little wambly-making. But kids often love disgusting stuff.
The action comes to a climax in a lair on the North Sea. So the movie has moved all around the world.
And the business at the climax is sufficiently complicated and visual to give the film a good send-off.
Actually, the action is pretty amusing during most of the film. A slow motion vehicle wreck about a third of the way into the movie featured a playing of the Carpenter’s “Close to You.” Couldn’t Becket have played the guitar solo from “Reeling in the Years”?
The nice, pat ending, though, reminds viewers of the responsibilities animated movie makers, and perhaps all makers of films for younger people, feel to get touchy-feely during their conclusions. Luckily, “Spies in Disguise” isn’t a full-out Disney princess movie.
If it were, viewers could expect some much more serious tear-jerking in the last reel.