Spies in Disguise, which comes out on DVD today, is both an enjoyable all-ages animated homage to class spy movies and one with a strong message against violence as the way of solving problems.
Spies in Disguise: The Premise
The story’s inciting idea is a ridiculous fun: Lance (Will Smith) is the greatest spy in the world but he’s accidentally turned into a pigeon by one of Walter’s (Tom Holland’s) weird science experiments. (Walter believes a pigeon would make a great spy because no one notices pigeons.)
Hijinks ensue, as the movie turns into a Walter/Lance pigeon/buddy action/spy story. Lance acquires a band of sidekick pigeons, their only allies as they’re chased not only by the bad guy, Killian (Ben Mendelsohn) but also their own spy agency.
Lance and Walter’s main conflict comes from their vastly different approaches to stop the bad guys. Lance feels the only way to win is to counter violence with violence. Walter feels there should be a better way, a less violent one, of stopping them.
“Lance is only the good guy because we [the story] said he was,” Co-Director Nick Bruno said in an interview last week. “Walter feels strongly that if we’re going to be the good guys, then we have to act like the good guys. We have to try and do the good thing.”
Instead of the usual poison darts or hidden knives or guns disguised as something else, Walter’s gadgets are designed to stop but not kill anyone.
Those gadgets include a glitter blaster, holographic cute kitties (it releases endorphins that make people happy), goo that imprisons people without hurting them, and inflatable shields. And, yes, the kitties and the glitter guns are hilarious.
The Theme: Dare to Find Non-Violent Solutions
Until Lance is turned into a pigeon, he doesn’t take Walter’s gadgets seriously, no does anyone else at the spy agency. Heck, Walter’s office is right next to the bathroom. But Walter believes his approach will work if only given a chance.
I wasn’t sure where this movie was going first, as it seems to be Lance’s movie. He’s cool, he’s badass, everyone loves him at the agency. In other words, he’s the best spy ever.
But Spies in Disguise is actually Walter’s movie. He’s more courageous in many ways than Lance. Walter’s willing to trust people. He’s willing to try out new solutions to problems, even if people call him “weird” and denigrate him. All he wants is a chance and people who believe in him.
The villain of the movie, Killian, is a fascinating contrast to Lance. Killian and Lance mirror each other. As NIC said, we know Killian’s the bad guy because he’s introduced as the bad guy but his actions and Killian’s actions are remarkably similar and violent.
Killian is ultimately the bad guy because he blames covert battles for the death of too many people he cared about so he wants revenge: kill the spies and eliminate the violence. That means he too is fighting violence by escalating it.
It’s no spoiler to say that Walter’s approach, the find a better way, to injure as little as possible, takes Killian off guard.
Walter Is a Great Role Model
We’ve talked about finding kinder, gentler male role models here on GeekMom before, and how men are often expected to be strong and even silent with their emotions.
Walter is the opposite of the stereotypical bad-ass spy. He is open about wanting connection with people and he’s willing to try a new way, even with all the risks that come with that. He’s not big and badass, he’s smaller and uses his intelligence instead of relying on coolness or fear.
In short, Walter is the opposite of toxic masculinity and his version of the world spreads to those around him so they too begin to examine their methods and as if there’s a better way. In that, Walter shares traits with Baymax of Big Hero 6, another movie about not returning violence with yet more violence, but with kindness instead.
Spies In Disguise: Conclusion
Watch Spies In Disguise because it embraces its weird, like Walter, and because it’s a terrific homage to spy movies with great international action set pieces, with wonderful characters like Lance, Walter, and the rest of their allies. (Not to mention all those cool gadgets!)
But also watch it because its moral foundation is theme of teaching people to communicate and trust in each other.