Will Smith reinvents himself as star of kids’ movies
Along with dinosaurs, pirates, and princesses, spy games are way up there on the list of kids’ favorite playground pastimes. Action star Will Smith continues mixing up his resume with a foray into kids’ movies. He worked his magic as the Genie in Disney’s live action Aladdin. With the animated comedy Spies in Disguise, Smith returns to his usual role of action hero, but with a feathery twist.
Rooting for the underdog
Smith has been behind the camera as producer on several notable kids’ movies: reboots of Annie and The Karate Kid, which refreshingly featured African-American stars in the title roles. He enjoys championing projects with an underdog at the heart of the story. In this case, the underdog is Walter (the voice of Tom Holland), a young inventor who has been called “weird” his whole life. Walter is obsessed with creating non-violent solutions for dealing with the bad guys, usually in the form of gadgets that emit exploding glitter fireworks and entertaining kitty holograms.
Smith is the voice of Lance, a suave, tuxedoed, internationally renowned James-Bond type. But a secret potion takes his ego down a few pegs. He accidentally drinks it and turns into a lowly, bug-eyed pigeon who can, he observes with dismay, see his butt and his face at the same time. The secret potion is in fact a disappearing formula Walter has been working on to help Lance with his secret-agent government work. Walter’s goal was to make Lance invisible. But things run a-“fowl.”
However, Lance soon learns that his new avian form isn’t so bad when it comes to spying. Nobody pays any attention to pigeons pecking around, so Lance can infiltrate just about any situation. Nevertheless, he can’t wait to get back to his smooth, suave self. The problem is, the formula doesn’t have an antidote.
Buddy movie features unlikely pair
Sandie Angelo Chen of Common Sense Media aptly points out that Spies in Disguise is an odd couple buddy movie. She gave it the Common Sense Media “Great for Families” award, because the movie not only celebrates teamwork, but also science and searching for solutions through non-violent means. In addition, it includes some strong female roles, including Reba McEntire as the voice of Joyless, head of the security agency where Lance and Walter work. Rashida Jones is the voice of Marcy, a relentlessly focused agent who seeks out Lance when he’s framed for crimes he didn’t commit.
Action a little too serious for kids’ film
My criticism of Spies in Disguise is that the action sequences are played very straight, to the point where it feels uncomfortably realistic and not like they belong in a kids’ movie. I wanted them to have more humor like Despicable Me, which similarly has an undercover theme but it’s played for maximum laughs and silliness. Luckily Walter’s gadgets do manage to diffuse some of that seriousness.
Hopefully Will Smith will continue his winning streak with kids’ films. Like the dapper tux, comedy really suits Will Smith. He could continue as an action/thriller star for years to come, but it’s not nearly as interesting.
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