The last time we saw Will Smith (and Will Smith), he was fighting himself in the decidedly average Gemini Man—a so-so film that squandered its nifty concept and found Smith sleepwalking his way through a rote action flick. In the animated, kid-friendly, James Bond-lite effort Spies in Disguise from Blue Sky Studios, though, we finally get the real Will Smith back (albeit just his voice), and it helps make the flick a welcome treat this holiday season.

Smith is super-spy Lance Sterling, a gent with the most awesomest crime-fighting skills ever (without being a superhero) and an ego to match. He’s backed by a posse of gadget experts who work tirelessly to outfit him with all kinds of deadly gizmos… all except Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), who instead prefers to go the pacifist route, offering his boss things like a glitter bomb that distracts the bad guys by creating sparkle-tastic images of cute kitties. Sterling wants nothing to do with it and, in fact, fires Walter… right before accidentally swallowing Walter’s latest concoction, “biodynamic concealment”, which turns the spy into a pigeon.

Turns out being a pigeon actually comes in handy, though, as Sterling is tasked with going up against the evil Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), who has stolen a hard drive with the names of all the world’s secret agents and is planning to kill all of them with a massive drone strike. Just to add another wrinkle, Killian uses his nefarious technology to frame Sterling, which leads Internal Affairs, led by agent (Rashida Jones), to launch an all-out effort to track down Sterling and arrest him. Thus, Sterling and Beckett set off on their mission—a young man and a bird against the world, armed only with a couple glitter bombs and an affinity for bread crumbs. (Don’t laugh—it comes in handy.)

Smith, back in his mid-90s form as a smooth-talkin’ dude with swagger in his step, delivers a memorable performance, and Holland is equal to the task. The rest of the cast—a supremely diverse group that includes DJ Khaled, Karen Gillan, and Reba McEntire—chips in, too, keeping the pace up and adding to the fun.

Blue Sky honcho Chris Wedge tapped his longtime animators Troy Quane and NIck Bruno to helm the flick (their first), and right out of the gate they prove they have the right stuff, infusing Spies with ample amounts of whiz-bang action and decorating it with vivid colors and snazzy animation. The pair takes the solidly funny and positive-message script from Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor and gives kids and adults an entertaining diversion during the holidays. Spies in Disguise may not have much of a shelf-life, but it’s a cute and entertaining way to get the youngsters to put down their phones, if only for a couple hours, and spend some quality time with the ‘rents.


3/5 stars