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Will Smith and Tom Holland lend their voices to the new animated adventure Spies in Disguise.Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp

  • Spies in Disguise
  • Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane
  • Written by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor
  • Featuring the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland
  • Classification PG
  • 101 minutes

Rating:

2.5 out of 4 stars

If a movie fulfilling the promise of its premise makes it successful, then Spies in Disguise is a success. The setup is that Will Smith voices the world’s foremost secret agent, who is transformed into a pigeon, and the payoff is that Will Smith voices the world’s foremost secret agent, who is transformed into a pigeon.

The latest release from Blue Sky Studios, the company behind the Ice Age and Rio films, follows the unlikely duo of James Bond-esque super-spy Lance Sterling (Smith) and awkward tech prodigy Walter Beckett (Tom Holland). The two of them are forced to team up when an experiment goes awry and combines Lance’s DNA with genetic material from Walter’s pet pigeon. This turns the suave and infallible spy into an animal of the sky.

Holiday movie guide: Reviews of films opening through the end of December

Lance has been framed by a terrorist for stealing a weapon and goes on the run – or rather, on the fly – with Walter as his only ally and a necessary companion while he tries to develop an antidote. As Lance adapts to his new life as a bird and aims to clear his name, Smith’s voice work is remarkably impassioned and lively. He’s as enthusiastic and expressive as in some of his best live-action performances, and that elevates the film as a whole.

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Holland voices tech prodigy Walter Beckett, left, while Smith portrays super-spy Lance Sterling, who is accidentally transformed into a pigeon.Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp

The young Holland isn’t quite as adept at voice work as Smith, but he’s still endearing as the shy but brilliant tech geek. The impressive supporting cast includes Rashida Jones as a tenacious agent tracking down Lance and Ben Mendelsohn as the vengeful terrorist.

Spies in Disguise is often amusing, and it’s especially nice to see it convey a message of anti-violence, but the film falls short of being truly memorable. Jokes land, for the most part, but are forgotten once the credits are over. The aggressive amount of Audi product-placement is irksome, but that should hardly be a problem for the target audience of children.

Personal preferences in regards to animation will vary, but as much as studios have developed their technologies and crafted distinct styles, computer animation will always come across as failing to match the warmth of its hand-drawn counterpart. Certain sequences stand out, particularly the brilliant colours of a sunrise late in the film, but if there’s a computer-animated movie that will win over those with a nostalgic attachment to the classics, this isn’t it.

Still, while the adults in the audience may not be especially thrilled, Spies in Disguise offers an enjoyable enough family film with a stellar voice cast and its heart in the right place. It might not be the best movie of the year, but its faults are nothing worth ruffling feathers about.

Spies in Disguise opens Dec. 25

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