For Disney, Christmas came early many times throughout 2019, a year that saw six of the studio’s films top $1 billion worldwide. Now that Christmas has actually come, the House of Mouse is once again dominating the box office with a volley of films, led by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This week another film joined the pack: Spies in Disguise.
The cg comedy caper opened yesterday on 3,500 screens domestically. In its opening five-day holiday frame (Wed-Sun), it’s projected to pull in something in the range of $20 million, which all things considered, wouldn’t be too bad. Competition could come from starry period drama Little Women, another wide entry, as well as holdovers like Star Wars, Frozen 2, and Cats. The only other wide release of the week, Adam Sandler thriller Uncut Gems, skews older.
Spies in Disguise comes from Blue Sky, the studio best known for its Ice Age and Rio franchises. None of its films outside those franchises has taken more than $300 million at the global box office. Its last offering, Ferdinand, opened in December 2017 (also against a Star Wars film), and took $13.4 million in its first three days on its way to $84.4 million domestic. The film performed well abroad pulling in an additional $211M from international plays.
Watch the trailer and read the official synopsis below:
Super spy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) and scientist Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) are almost exact opposites. Lance is smooth, suave, and debonair. Walter is… not. But when events take an unexpected turn, this unlikely duo are forced to team up for the ultimate mission that will require an almost impossible disguise — transforming Lance into the brave, fierce, majestic… pigeon. Walter and Lance suddenly have to work as a team, or the whole world is in peril.
Spies in Disguise has a long history. The feature is loosely based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 indie short film Pigeon: Impossible. The short went viral on Youtube and was optioned by Chernin Entertainmnt which partnered with Fox Animation, which owns Blue Sky.
That film was delayed at least a couple times from its original release date of January 18, 2019, with some of the delay owing to Disney’s buyout of 21st Century Fox assets. When the deal was completed last March, Blue Sky fell into Disney’s business, where it now sits awkwardly alongside Pixar and Walt Disney animation Studios.
Meanwhile, in July, Andrea Miloro stepped down as co-president of Fox Animation, in which capacity she had oversight of Blue Sky. At the time, reports noted that Spies in Disguise has been beset by budgetary issues.
Following Disney’s buyout, the future of Blue Sky remains uncertain. Disney has confirmed that it will also finish the feature following Spies in Disguise — Patrick Osborne’s Nimona — but it is not publicly known what will become of the Greenwich, Connecticut studio after the completion of that film.
Spies in Disguise is produced by Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios, and Chernin Entertainment, and marks the feature directorial debuts of veteran animators Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, who are working with a script from Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor. Michael J. Travers (The Peanuts Movie) is producing.
Overall, the film’s critical reception is warm if not too enthusiastic, with many reviewers praising the satirical humor. At the time of writing, its critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes was 73%.
The humor includes enough slapstick and gross-out gags to keep the kids entertained, but there are clever callbacks and meta-jokes for older audiences to chuckle at as well… Screenwriters Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor… anchor the story around the refreshingly subversive theme of nonviolence, as the movie finds increasingly inventive ways to visualize Walter’s whimsical approach to spycraft.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw drops the score to three starts out of five:
There are some decent laughs and fun as Smith and Holland provide the bickering dialogue accompaniment for Lance and Walter, the ill-matched duo who fight the forces of darkness in locations ranging from Venice to Washington, D.C.… As with so many family animations right now, I felt that the script stays on the safe side, with fewer smart lines and ironic gags than I might have wished for, but this is a good-natured entertainment.
Kate Erbland singles out the design for praise in Indiewire:
Spies in Disguise is rendered in colorful, zippy style. Most amusing, however, is how much [the] characters look like their real-life counterparts, and the film allows its big stars to turn in animated performances you can envision them acting out in real life. Smith’s natural charisma and big-talking bluster is a good fit for Lance…
But Carlos Aguilar, writing in The Wrap, is less enamored of the visuals:
As if allergic to pursuing any sort of distinguishable style, the characters exude a refurbished quality. What drives the design here are repackaged versions of other figures we’ve seen in countless, second-rate cg features over the years. Walter’s bird friend may as well be copied from Valiant or a winged mutation of the hedgehogs in Ferdinand, while the goofy young man himself bears an uncanny resemblance to the title goofball in Arthur Christmas or Jonathan from Hotel Transylvania.