I knew I would watch Spies in Disguise the second I heard Will Smith’s voice in a pigeon’s body. Unfortunately, they didn’t capitalize on the concept that pigeons can be better spies than humans, but this movie has the potential to keep both children and parents entertained with a great combo of visual gags, expressive eyebrows animation, adult banter, and, believe it or not, a kind, worthwhile message.
On the surface, the message seems similar to that of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Give the weird guy a chance; his inventions will save the world one day! But that’s not what struck me the most. Yes, the coolest spy, Lance Sterling is forced to give the weird kid-scientist, Wilbur Buckett Walter Beckett a chance. And sure, Walter’s gadgets are, at first glance, too wacky to be helpful but end up saving the world. But the biggest takeaway message is Walter’s motivation for his wacky inventions. He wants spy gadgets to be non-lethal.
After a confirmation speech by the villain Dr. Claw Keller Killian, where he reveals his disdain for agents is the collateral damage they caused in Kyrgyzstan on a mission, Lance realizes fighting fire with fire gets everyone burned. I’m reminded of an emotional video of a CIA Undercover explaining that everyone thinks they’re the good guy. She convinces us that listening to an enemy’s story is the only way to understand them, and understanding them is the only path that leads to a resolution. It may be easier to dismiss your enemy as evil, but Walter, the nerdy scientist that only invents non-lethal gadgets, knows better.
Spies in Disguise doesn’t work nearly as hard as I wish it did to make the point the CIA Undercover does, but it’s a great first step and theme children should take away from the movie. Lance Sterling and the audience learn a simple and important lesson: it’s hard to separate a good guy from a bad guy when their actions are the same.