Reviewed by: Ruth Eshuis
Spies in the Bible
Young man being called “weird” by others
Importance of teamwork
Will Smith … Lance Sterling (voice)
Tom Holland … Walter Beckett (voice)
Ben Mendelsohn … Killian (voice)
Rashida Jones … Marcy Kappel (voice)
Karen Gillan … Eyes (voice)
Rachel Brosnahan … Wendy Beckett (voice)
Reba McEntire … Joy Jenkins (voice)
See all »
Blue Sky Studios
See all »
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a division of The Walt Disney Company
The World Needs Weird
Based on a novel called Pigeon Impossible, this latest Will Smith comedy-action animation for teens is built on an interesting concept and a lot of ridiculous fun, but from a Christian perspective it falls flat.
Lance Sterling (Will Smith), a super-impressive but recently disgraced spy, seeks out the help of teenage science genius Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) who can make Lance invisible. But little does Lance realize he will transform into a pigeon to do so! Shrunken, disoriented and frustrated, Lance’s only hope of freedom is to continue his covert investigation and stop bad guys from hurting a lot of people. His motto has always been: “Lance Sterling flies solo,” but now he finds that he cannot succeed unless he learns to work together with the flock of misfit pigeons who’ve adopted him, and the one who Lance thinks caused all the trouble: ‘Walter the Weirdo.’
Designed to be a very ‘cool’ movie, “Spies in Disguise” gives teen viewers what they want, but little that is clean or edifying. Scripting and action are smart—there is loads of color, tech, crime-fighting, cheek, sneakiness, cuteness, harshness and new insults which I’m sure we’ll soon be hearing in the classroom (sigh…). Highly expressive voices from the likes of Reba McEntire add to the ride. Visual focus is on each character, rather than settings of Washington, Japan and a hidden weapons facility in the North Sea.
The 3D animation is very well done—especially pigeons with their cheerful strutting and somehow-toothy grins—and cars. In fact, dozens of people, a whole “Promotional Content” section of the credits, have worked on the blatant and frequent embedded advertisements for Audi cars. So, while overall the production quality is high and clever, it is not necessarily GOOD, because it appears more concerned with economics than teens’ well-being. Also, some flashing sequences could pose issues for those vulnerable to seizures or migraines.
There are just a few positives to “Spies in Disguise”:
Its main theme seems to be that ‘flying solo’ isn’t the best way, and “together we can find a good way to defeat evil.” This involves using the strengths of all sorts of people, even those whom society would deem ‘weird.’ “You can do more by bringing people together than by blocking them out.” “Being in a flock helped you.”
Its depiction of evil is fairly accurate in that the villains have no hesitation about doing evil, and “Evil doesn’t care that you’re nice. I watch good people be taken every day.” This is a sad reality.
Walter is humble and anti-violence. Lance initially laughs at this but comes to respect it.
As you may be gathering, there are too many problems to discuss them all. Foremost in my mind is that “Spies in Disguise” makes violence look incredibly cool, like a video-game in places, and it is scary, focused on prideful role models, distasteful humor and contains unusually heavy product placements. These are an unhealthy diet for our young people.
But beyond the mix of face-value good and bad traits, we must consider the themes, messages and spiritual issues with “Spies in Disguise.” Obviously, the film is all about personality, action and cheap gags, rather than true character or deep transformation. Nevertheless, it is also about learning to work in a team and being willing to try doing things someone else’s way. This is an important but sometimes dismissed biblical principle.
So, what does God’s Word, the Bible, say about all this? It insists that all Christians are one family, body or flock, with Jesus as our caring leader (John 10:16; Acts 20:28; Romans 12; 1 Peter 5). He says that all our roles are important and that beyond everyone’s gifts and approaches, the ‘most excellent way’ is love—selfless, unconditional, agape love which teaches us to be humble and to care for others’ needs above our own (1 Corinthians 12-13). As such, let’s each remember to work with our ‘flock’ to defeat evil wherever it may be found, and to not think that we can ‘fly solo’ like a foolish, defenseless bird.
A worthwhile and relatively safe film?
Certainly not. Despite normally liking this genre, the main voice actors and the story concept, I struggled to enjoy “Spies in Disguise” at all. It is far too full of poor-taste joking, ugly attitudes, scary violence and nudity. It may even encourage teens towards bullying behaviors and bad language. It steps very close to the line of expletives and profanities.
Whether a parent, teen or anyone else, please do not waste your money on disappointing films like “Spies in Disguise.”
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.