Review: Spy Secrets – Spies in Disguise (2019)

Spy Secrets – Spies in Disguise (2019)

Directed by: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane | 102 minutes | animation, adventure | Dutch voice cast: John Williams, Buddy Vedder, Défano Holwijn | Original voice cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Karen Gillan, Randy Trager, Ben Mendelsohn, Carla Jimenez, Rachel Brosnahan

Chances are you’ve never seen Lucas Martell’s animated short ‘Pigeon: Impossible’ (2009). In this six-minute cutscene, inexperienced secret agent Walter has to deal with a curious pigeon that secretly crawls into his expensive, nuclear gadget-laden suitcase, with all the consequences that entails. This modest but charming film, which won Martell a handful of awards, is the basis of the debut film Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, who earned their spurs in the animation department of Blue Sky Studios (known for the ‘Ice Age’ among others). and ‘Rio’ films) and can now take the director’s chair himself. ‘Spies in Disguise’ (2019), released in the Netherlands under the title ‘Spy Secrets’, extended the basic premise of ‘Pigeon: Impossible’ into a 102-minute animated comedy in which a big fat wink is given to James Bond and Ethan Hunt (the main character). from the ‘Mission: Impossible’ series). Besides a parody of the genre of the spy film, we are also presented with elements from the buddy comedy and a body swap. How that pigeon from ‘Pigeon: Impossible’ plays a role in the whole is as inventive as it is unbelievable, but in this case we just overlook that.

Just like in all major blockbusters about exceptional secret agents, we also get to see our hero in action in ‘Spy Secrets’ before the opening credits executed in a wonderful retro style. Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith in the original version and by John Williams in the Dutch translation), the epitome of toughness, charm and intransigence, is so hailed as the best secret agent in the world that it has given him a bit of an arrogant streak . When we meet him, he is just about to steal an attack drone from a Japanese arms dealer before it is confiscated by the dangerous terrorist Kilian. The mission seems successful, but when Lance returns to headquarters, his briefcase is empty. The otherworldly but brilliant young inventor Walter Beckett (Tom Holland/Buddy Vedder), who nearly jeopardized the mission with his ‘Kitty Glitter’ gadget, is blamed and fired before he can talk about his latest invention, a biodynamic invisibility potion. Detective Marcy discovers from video footage that Lance is the one who stole the drone; she is unaware that Kilian is using a holographic disguise to avert suspicion. Lance rushes out of HQ and turns up at Walter’s house, knocking down the invisibility potion. But the invention is still in the development phase and Lance is turning into a… dove! He is forced to take Walter in tow to prevent Kilian from taking control of the world.

The concept of ‘Spy Secrets’ is promising: James Bond animated film, complete with underground headquarters, creepy villain with a steel prosthesis, inventive gadgets (but a lot more peaceful than we’re used to thanks to Walter’s pacifist streak) and Hitchcock aficionados will love even a classic Recognize MacGuffin in the list of data on all the secret agents that Kilian is after. As befits a true secret agent, the adventure takes Lance and Walter all over the world, with action scenes in Japan, Mexico and Italy (Venice, of course, a staple in the spy genre). The unlikely pair at the mercy of each other are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for jokes and comic situations. Walter is the type of geeky inventor who continues to be bullied even as an adult: an idealist who swoons over South Korean soap operas, lives with a turtledove he feeds gluten-free bread and believes he can scare away scum with pink glitter, projections of cats and a rainbow-colored defensive wall he has named “50 Shades of Yay.” He has been through a great personal tragedy, but tries to make the best of it. Lance is overflowing with self-confidence and initially doesn’t understand anything about silly Walter, but gradually gets to know and understand him better. Walter learns that he can be who he is, and loner Lance experiences that you can get further with cooperation than if you always want to solve everything yourself. No earth-shattering messages, but certainly life lessons that help children.

‘Spy Secrets’ is entertaining from the first to the last minute, but sounds more promising on paper than it can deliver in practice. The film is colorful, has a fast pace and a lot happens, as is the case in all films from the Blue Sky stable, but falls short on an emotional level. The jokes are nice, but nothing surprising or original and the exciting scenes are never fully fleshed out. This movie won’t stay with most viewers for long. Nevertheless, ‘Spy Secrets’ offers plenty of family entertainment, partly thanks to the enthusiastic voice cast. Just the scene where Lance just turned into a pigeon tries to get into his car full of technological feats is more than worth watching.

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