When the world seems literally about to fall apart, what we need is to remember that we’re all in this together. That, perhaps, the way we’ve been doing things hasn’t been the right way all along. As humans, we tend to focus on what’s right in front of us, unaware of the impact our choices make in our backyard or even across the globe. While hidden in a kids’ movie, Spies in Disguise asks its audience to reconsider their approach in all things. Maybe good guys should be about protecting lives and not be comfortable taking them, and that weird is just a normal you haven’t tried. For this reviewer that’s the biggest takeaway and it’s something that resonates even on repeat viewings. Sure, it’s got the usual body humor you’d expect from a film that sees a hyper-masculine super spy get turned into a pigeon, but it’s also got a sincerity that will warm even the coldest metallic hearts. Just in time for everyone to need something to watch at home, Spies in Disguise hit home video on March 10th, 2020.
When a nefarious villain Killian (voiced by Ben Mendelsohn) frames Agency super-spy Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith), the on-the-run agent turns to recently fired Agency scientist Walter Beckett (voiced by Tom Holland) to assist in clearing his name. In his rush to get what he needs from Walter, Lance swallows an experimental fluid which transforms his body into that of a pigeon. With time running out before Killian’s plan takes effect and Agency’s own Agent Marcy (voiced by Rashida Jones) on Lance’s tail, the unlikely duo must work together to save the world.
If you’d like to stay spoiler-free, make sure to check out the theatrical review. Moving forward, there’s going to be a more detailed discussion of the film and the bonus features.
What stood out in the first watch, and more so the second, is how philosophically similar Walter, Lance, and Killian are, even as their methods of reaction differ. Walter is a scientist and engineer, building equipment that pushes the bounds of reason in an effort to stop violence. Lance is an expert in espionage, capable with tools and without in dispatching various global threats. Through a brief bit of dialogue, Killian explains that his injuries and the deaths of his friends are a result of Lance’s work and it’s what pushes him to destroy the entire Agency. The audience is given no more than this so it’s unclear whether Killian was a prior target of Lance’s, making him a bad guy, or whether he was a civilian who got caught up in Lance’s fallout, which makes him a righteous villain. Each one of them (Walter, Lance, and Killian) wants to protect what is theirs, they just go about it differently. Like Killian, Walter wants to work with a team and sees the value in it. Killian only works alone because of Lance’s actions. In contrast, Lance created this bad guy because his version of peace is the demise of bad guys. It’s this short-sightedness that causes Lance to drink the fluid Walter was testing and it’s this internal perspective that needs the most changing. While there are many things about Spies in Disguise that don’t make sense (why can’t the Agency track Lance’s car? Why isn’t Walter dead from *several* serious injuries? Why not use an EMP on the guy with the robotic arm before he activates the rest of the drones?), the one thing that holds it all together, beyond the easy excuse of it being a kids’ movie, is the message that by working together, by shifting away from violence, there’s an actual chance for no future villains to be born. But it’s not easy and it requires a great deal of personal responsibility. Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor’s script implies such a change coming at the end of the film. Whether that is sustainable can only be determined if they ever make a sequel.
As far as special features are concerned, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have the usual stuff of picture galleries, music videos, and making-of vids for the music videos. If you have access to the digital edition, you’ll even get a video short titled “Lunch Break” which is 50% a mini-adventure of Walter and Lance and 50% an ad for Audi. On the other hand, and this is the good stuff here, there is the Super Secret Spy Mode of watching the film. Like Frozen II’s sing-a-a-long mode or Watchmen’s Maximum Movie Mode, the Super Secret Spy Mode is a means of making watching Spies in Disguise more immersive. In this case, that means directors Bruno and Quane occasionally interrupting the movie to provide tidbits of making the film, point out Easter Eggs from other 20th Century films like Ice Age and Robots, and even add little factoids from within the film’s universe. For example, did you wonder how the snowman during Lance’s initial infiltration got a tie and sunglasses? They point out the answer and show off the proof within the film. This not only extends the life of the film experience, but offers a chance for fans to learn more about a film they enjoy. The other two featurettes, “Infiltrating Blue Sky Studios” and “The Top Secret Guide to Gadgets,” are just fancy names for a behind the scenes featurette on the making of the movie and a deeper dive into the equipment featured in the film. They are both fun and add depth to the film, just not as much fun as Spy Mode.
Spies in Disguise is pretty heavy-handed in its message of non-violence, focusing, in particular, on the idea that a powerful defense (Lance) just leads to more powerful offenses (Killian). Though the film doesn’t spend much time on Walter’s motivations for protection beyond his mother being a police officer killed in the line of duty, Spies makes it very clear that, for Walter, violent acts may continue to occur, but our methodology for responding to them should change. It’s not weakness to use non-violence to prevent crime or stop a bad guy, it’s the greatest strength of all.
Spies in Disguise Special Features:
Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Super Secret Spy Mode
- Infiltrating Blue Sky Studios
- The Top Secret Guide to Gadgets
- “Then There Were Two” Music Video
- “Freak of Nature” Music Video
- Making the Soundtrack “Then There Were Two”
- Making the Soundtrack “Freak of Nature”
- Color Keys and Moment Paintings
- Character Designs
- Props and Gadgets Concept Art
Digital Bonus Features:
- “Lunch Break” short
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital beginning March 10th, 2020.