Spies in Disguise is an animated spy comedy film loosely based on the short Pigeon: Impossible, produced by Blue Sky Studios and starring Will Smith and Tom Holland. It was released on Christmas Day 2019, and was the first and only Blue Sky production released through Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Lance Sterling (Smith) is the world's greatest spy, who successfully accomplishes even the most dangerous missions with suave and a ready quip. Socially awkward genius Walter Beckett (Holland) is a tech geek whose bizarre, non-lethal gadgets make him a running joke in the agency. An unexpected event forces them to rely on each other in order to save the world, but there's one small problem... namely, Lance accidentally turned himself into a pigeon as a result of one of Walter's inventions. Hilarity Ensues.
On a somber note, this ended up being Blue Sky's final completed film before Disney shuttered the studio in April 2021. This film’s directors, Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, would later go on to direct Nimona for Annapurna Pictures and Netflix, salvaging the film from Blue Sky, where it was 75% complete when the studio was shuttered.
This film provides examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Lovey, Walter's pet pigeon, takes an instant liking to Lance's pigeon form (to his displeasure).
- Accidental Misnaming: Lance repeatedly gets Walter's name wrong when they first meet, only getting it right when they start to know each other better. Made extra funny when Lance drives to Walter's and the Title In says "Wilbur's House" before hastily correcting itself to "Walter's House".
- The Ace: Lance is the best agent the agency has, and it shows.
- Actor Allusion: When Walter can't see or hear, he says his other senses are heightened.
- Actually Pretty Funny: When Marcy found out about Lance turning into a pigeon as the main reason she wasn't able to track him down during her pursuit against him, she goes into a laughing fit before noting how messed up that is.
- All of the Other Reindeer: Ever since he was a kid, Walter has had to deal with being called "weird". Even among his fellow scientists at the agency, he is still labelled this, due to his odd, non-lethal gadgets.
- All There in the Script: Killian's name is never said onscreen. Lance and Walter both casually refer to him as "Robo-Hand".
- An Aesop: The bad guys may not care if you're nice to them, but they will care if you're nasty to them. When Killian lost his crew, he went from being a generic spy villain to taking up a vendetta to bring down Lance personally and destroy all he held dear.
- And the Adventure Continues: Lance and Walter are reinstated into the agency to do things Walter's style, and are last seen doing a mission together using Walter's gadgets.
- Animal Talk: Being turned into a pigeon allows Lance to understand what other pigeons are saying. All we hear onscreen is cooing, though.
- Artistic Title: The opening and closing credits pay homage to the stylish credit sequences of the James Bond films.
- Ascended Meme: Yes, the Will Smith character really did say "that's hot."
- Attractive Bent Species: Lovey finds pigeon Lance very attractive even though it is revealed that, due to using a feather taken from Lovey in the transformative elixir, Lance as a pigeon is also female.
- Awesome, but Impractical: The glass ceiling beneath the Reflective Pool and over the agency base may look cool but it's an obvious weak point especially when Killian has his drones cause an EMP surge that prevents them from closing the armored shutters.
- Benevolent Boss: Killian who truly cared about his original crew and hates Lance for killing them in a past mission.
- Big Damn Heroes: Lance turns himself back into a pigeon briefly to lead the other pigeons to save Walter from falling after he stops Killian.
- Big "NO!": Lance lets one out when he believes Killian just blew Walter up.
- Body Horror:
- A more mild, kid-friendly version happens with Lance during his transformation; he suffers a bad stomachache, possibly meaning that his organs were being rearranged, his hands shrink, goosebumps starting forming on his skin signaling that feathers are about to grow out of it, and his eyes get larger and start moving to the side of his head. While it's Played for Laughs, the entire experience is obviously terrifying to Lance as it would be to anyone suffering it. Lance discovering he has a cloaca and how it functions for birds is another such moment.
- One of Walter's inventions is a device that seemingly turns a victim's bones into rubber, leaving them a shapeless mess on the ground that can't move at all. When it's used on Kimura, Lance and Walter are forced to push him over to the door, the criminal looking like human silly putty. And when Marcy finds Kimura like this, she struggles not to throw up.
- Bloodless Carnage: We see Walter with bruises on his face at various points, but no blood is shown. Though at one point after the final battle, the two main characters mention internal bleeding.
- Book Ends: The opening scene ends with Walter's mom hugging him calling them part of Team Weird. When Lance and Walter are reinstated, they both declare themselves Team Weird.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Walter and Lance have different approaches to taking down "bad guys". On the one hand, Lance is constantly proven correct that villains don't care if you play nice, and you want to take them down once and for all so they can't retaliate. It's hard to argue given Killian tortures Walter, a teenager, in an attempt to lure out Lance when the latter calls for the agent. Walter, on the other hand, points out that if you have "blow up a bad guy" as a default solution, everyone gets burned with you "fight fire with fire". Sometimes the nonviolent solution may be the right one, in that no one gets hurt.
- Brains and Brawn: Walter and Lance, respectively. Although Lance definitely isn't a Dumb Muscle as he has very quick wits and is able to crack down on a mission while taking the form of a small animal, he has better fighting and acrobatic skills compared to the scrawny Walter. Meanwhile, Walter is a Gadgeteer Genius who has a lot more knowledge in science than Lance.
- Brick Joke: In the beginning, Lance gives one of his co-workers a fist-bump, which excites the coworker and prompts his friend to tell him to never wash that hand. When the drones start invading the headquarters, the two of them put the fist Lance touched in front of them as if it will protect them; when the drones are deactivated, they clearly believe that the fist is the reason why.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Lance's response to Killian asking if he remembers him while the former is being strangled is..."What can I say? I meet a lot of bad guys."
- Can't Stay Normal: Lance is turned back into a human about halfway in, but when Walter is falling after defeating Killian, he has to transform back into a pigeon to save him.
- Central Theme: How necessary violence, particularly killing, is when dealing with conflict. The argument between Walter and Lance that forms most of the movie is if pacifism is even possible in the face of people who genuinely wish the world harm. While the bad guys won't play nice, sometimes choosing to think of a solution beyond blowing everyone up is the right one, especially considering the Big Bad is the result of the "blow up the bad guy" solution horribly backfiring.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The bread crumbs Walter always carries around to feed pigeons with comes in handy in Venice, allowing him to escape from Killian.
- In the beginning of the film, a previous mission Lance went on is mentioned, with the implication that it went south. Turns out Killian's entire crew was killed on that mission, providing his motivation for going after Lance.
- Cool Car: Lance drives a custom Audi e-tron GT.
- Curse Cut Short: A few. This includes instances of a "kick our -" and a "Holy s-" from Walter, and a "son of a -" from Marcy.
- Cyber Cyclops: All of the drones seen in the movie have a single red eye incorporated into their designs.
- Damn You, Muscle Memory!: When he needed to search up Kimura's name on the computer, Lance extends his feathers as if he would be typing with human fingers. He realizes his mistake shortly afterwards and proceeds to peck at the keyboard with his beak.
- Daydream Surprise: Happens to Lance, when he suddenly kills Walter by ejecting him out of the airplane along with his bird Lovey, but it turns out it was all just in his mind.
- Disney Death: Walter and the pigeons are apparently blown up by Killian when they try to rescue Lance, but they later show up unharmed, having been protected by Walter's inflatable hug.
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Walter's mother Wendy, a police officer who encouraged him to use his ideas to save people, died when Walter was still a kid.
- "Eureka!" Moment: After Lance lays an egg, Walter realizes why his first attempt at making the antidote didn’t work.Lance: Walter… what happens in the submarine, stays in the submarine.
Walter: You just laid an egg. (gasps) You laid an egg!
Lance: It just- it just kinda… slipped out, man…
Walter: You just laid an egg! Lance, this is amazing! Do you not realize what this means?! You’re a girl!
Lance: Oh... ‘scuse me?!
Walter: Of course, of course! That’s why I couldn’t figure this out! I used Lovey’s DNA in the serum!
Lance: And that helps us how?
Walter: Because now all I need to do is change one variable in the antidote, and you’ll be human again!
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Killian greatly cared for his original crew who were killed by Lance in a past mission and is motivated to avenge them.
- Eye Cam: Done when Lance awakens after his pigeon transformation and is looking at Walter.
- Eye Scream: Towards the end of the first car chase, Walter gets sprayed in the eyes with a flying bottle of hand sanitizer.
- Facial Horror: Along with allowing him to impersonate Lance, Killian's masking technology also hides the horrific scars and robotic implants on the left side of his face.
- Fake-Out Opening: The first scene of the movie shows someone defusing a bomb in a spy-like fashion... then it’s revealed to be Walter playing with one of his inventions.
- Frame-Up: Lance is framed as the perpetrator behind the drone attacks, and must fight to clear his name with Walter's help.
- Freudian Excuse: Killian is sympathetic in his motivation for hating Lance since the spy slaughtered his whole crew and mangled his face — although granted, they were crooks. Killian most surely goes too far when he attempts to kill everyone in Lance's agency as a form of payback.
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Averted, as it's made clear most of the drinks ordered or served are alcoholic.
- Furry Reminder: This bit after Lance is transformed into a pigeon:Walter: Lance, look at me.
Lance: L-look at you?! I can't not look at you, Walter! I can see my butt and your face at the same time!
- Gender Bender: Played with. Lance himself remains male vocally when he is transformed and his gender identity doesn't change either, but the body he takes is actually that of a female pigeon, with him being able to lay eggs. Walter realizes that the feather he used in the serum came from his pet pigeon, Lovey, and this oversight was the reason the initial antidote formula didn't work. This is a rare instance in which the 'turn into a bird, lay an egg' joke has a real plot effect and isn't just for laughs.
- Gilligan Cut: After Killian has been defeated, the Background Music swells as Walter has an "Eureka!" Moment, believing he and Lance will have their jobs reinstated. Cue a Smash Cut to Lance and Walter carrying Carboard Boxes of Unemployment and the music suddenly grinding to a halt.Walter: So... triple fired.
Lance: Yeah man, that's gotta be some kinda record.
Walter: I really didn't see that coming.
- Groin Attack: Lance and Walter evades several of Marcy’s agents in Mexico by sliding through their legs, Lance pecking each in the crotch.
- Heel Realization: A very minor and implied one. When the agents point out Walter saved Killian, Killian's eye actually goes from red to blue implying he knows they are right. Though it was likely a moment of remorse than outright reforming.
- Heroic Sacrifice: A photograph in Walter's house shows his mother's coffin being draped in the American flag, implying that she was killed in action. The framed newspaper besides it hails her as a hero and it is later mentioned by Marcy that Wendy gave her life protecting her fellow officers.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: This is Walter's primary reasoning for using pigeon DNA in the formula, as they are commonly seen in every major city in the world with no one batting an eye at them. This is later proven when he and Lance are in Mexico, with Kimura's minions barely batting an eye at the sight of pigeon Lance.
- Hope Spot:
- Lance's retrieval of the drone appears to have gone without a hitch, but as he's being briefed, Marcy comes in to arrest him for stealing the drone, and the briefcase is revealed to be empty.
- When the time runs out on the formula and Lance appears to have not turned into a pigeon, he laughs at Walter… and suddenly disappears in a flurry of feathers, the transformation happening more suddenly than anticipated.
- The antidote is ready after incubating for eighteen hours, but when Walter tests it on one of Lance's feathers, it explodes in a blackish goop, indicating that it hasn't been perfected yet, and would have been lethal if ingested.
- Lance takes out Killian's drone quite easily, only for Killian to reveal that he's built thousands more.
- Ink-Suit Actor: Many of the characters are modelled to resemble the actors voicing them, particularly Lance, Walter, Killian and Eyes.
- Ironic Echo:
- Lance's amusing "Sleepy night-night" catchphrase is used by Killian to sinister effect after the latter knocks him out.
- Moments after, after seeing that Killian is about to target Walter and the pigeons, Lance freaks out and starts using the same nonviolence phrases Walter would use but to no avail.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Marcy to her credit is a Reasonable Authority Figure when she sees Walter in Lance's car. Walter had called them to explain Lance was at his house, not knowing that Walter had an arrest warrant for theft and espionage, and naturally, her team is confused about why the kid is seemingly helping a fugitive after busting him. Marcy not-too-kindly but correctly deduces that Lance is using Walter to further his agenda because the kid is naive and idealistic and Walter is in over his head. Indeed, Lance was just using Walter's untested invention and becomes fond of him much later on.
- If you take away the morality of Walter's Do No Harm practices, Lance's contempt for him at the beginning of the movie isn't exactly unmerited. Regardless of the effectiveness of Walter's unorthodox gadgets, it doesn't change the fact that Walter meddled with Lance's equipment behind his back without his consent, and doing so caused Lance to be affected the same as his assailants and got a knife dangerously close to his throat due to being caught off-guard. Such behavior in spying and government businesses is inexcusable since as little as one miscommunication or mistake can mean the difference between success and failure, or life and death. Lance was the most merciful compared to how Joy Jenkins would've handled the news. He also has a point that sometimes villains, especially the worst of the worst, have to be put down hard.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Kimura tells the Yakuza to kill Lance in Japanese, Lance states "I'm guessing that subtitle was not in my favor".
- Leave No Survivors: Killian's plan is to kill every operative at the agency Lance works for, as payback for Lance killing his entire crew and permanently scarring him during a previous mission.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Lance invokes this after he ends up laying an egg.Lance Sterling: What happens in the submarine, stays in the submarine!
- A Minor Kidroduction: The opening scene of the movie focused on a young Walter and his mother.
- Mirror Character: Lance and Killian are both motivated by the deaths of their comrades.
- Missing Mom: Walter's mom was a cop who was killed on the job.
- Morphic Resonance: When Lance becomes a pigeon, he retains his Big Ol' Eyebrows from his human form, while his lower body is deep blue-black as a holdover from his suit. His bow tie also appears as a bow-shaped mark on his tummy.
- Naked People Are Funny: Kimura has his butt exposed several times in one scene.
- Agent Sterling, when he returns to his human form in that decidedly cramped submarine cockpit. Walter, fortunately, is prepared, and has brought Lance's tuxedo along.
- The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Walter considers a codename and chooses "Bond. Hydrogen Bond."
- Nonchalant Dodge: In the first trailer, Lance deftly moves around a mook's attempts to hit him before ending the fight with a chop to the neck.
- Noodle Implements:
- Lance telling himself he once "broke into the Kremlin using a piece of duct tape and a napkin".
- When Lance tries to get information out of Kimura, he calls for a funnel, jumper cables, and a Nickelback album.
- Noodle Incident: Near the beginning of the film Joy warns Sterling not to make another mess like his previous mission in Kurdistan. It is not specified in detail what actually happened on this mission, though Killian's disfigurement suggests that it wasn't pretty.
- Not Quite Back to Normal: After returning to human form the first time around, Lance displays some bird characteristics, such as bobbing his head when he walks, and an inability to see glass. The second time, his right hand is still small though Walter promises to fix that.
- Oh, Crap!: Walter's reaction when Lance drinks the formula, complete with his goggles flying off his head.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Killian's name is never mentioned and he is only ever referred to as "Robot Hand".
- Orbital Shot: Done when Lance is freaking out upon realizing he turned into a pigeon.
- Pain to the Ass: During a car chase while suspended in slow motion after careening off an overpass ledge, Lance gets poked in the buttocks from a compass and slowly screams in pain.
- Painful Transformation: Lance's transformation into a pigeon is this.Lance: What's happening to my HAAAAAANNNNNNDDDD?!
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Kimura checked into a hotel in New Mexica under the name "Not Kimura".
- P.O.V. Cam: From Lance's perspective as a pigeon, he can see everything around him due to pigeons having 360 vision.
- Product Placement: Lance's Audi e-tron GT counts as this, even though this film's target audience is too young to drive one.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: While Marcy is an Inspector Javert towards Lance — understandable since whoever was framing him is committing mass murder at the same time— she's actually pretty nice towards Walter. Her assumption that Lance is using him is correct in the beginning, that he's a kid who got in over his head and is a pacifist Gadgeteer Genius to boot. Heck, in Mexico when she shouts at him not to jump from the balcony, she sounds more concerned than angry because, at that height, he could badly hurt himself and nearly does. Marcy also admits begrudgingly that she's impressed at how none of the agents were hurt. Later in Venice when holding him at gunpoint as he and Lance prepare to protect the Database, Marcy tells Walter that she knows that he's going to do great things with his inventions and make sure heroes like his mom and that Lance isn't one of the good guys that he admires. When she realizes that Walter's faith in Lance was right— Lance was framed— she comes to offer backup support in the climax. It's implied she pushed for Walter to lead the new task force after seeing him willing to risk his life to save thousands of people and save Killian.
- Red Right Hand: Taken literally-ish as a robot left hand. Killian can disguise himself as another person, but his robot hand doesn't look any different. Marcy sees it when he makes his getaway in Venice, causing her to stop and reflect that maybe Lance is being framed.
- Revenge: This is Killian's motivation; Lance led an attack by the agency that killed Killian's comrades, and disfigured him.
- Save the Villain: Walter insists on bringing Killian into custody non-lethally by putting him in an "inflatable hug", even though this causes Walter himself to almost fall to his death.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Walter and Lance. Walter is a geek who loves korean dramas, k-pop music and cute things, while Lance is a Boisterous Bruiser who loves grenades and kicking bad guys' butts.
- Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: When Lance changes into a pigeon, he shrinks out of his clothes. During the final scene, he is seen wearing clothes when he is turned back into a human, suggesting Walter may have refined the formula to aid in this.
- Shoe Phone: Walter has a gadget he calls the multi-pen with various settings, including a Truth Serum spray, freeze ray, Serious String ("It's like Silly String, but it's serious") and an electric bolt that rubberizes people.
- Shown Their Work: Many of the challenges that Lance encounters as a pigeon are true to life, from having nearly 360-degree vision to excreting from a cloaca. The pigeon facts that Walter shares are also accurate.
- Single Tear: Lance sheds a single tear when Killian blows up the submarine Walter was in.
- Stealth Pun: The title is this when you realize it technically stands for spies in the skies.
- Walter's "epigenetic modulation" serum is actually an "e-pigeon-etic modulation" serum.
- Sticky Situation: One of Walter's inventions is "Serious Putty", sticky pink goo meant to nonlethally immobilize targets.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: At the hotel in Mexico, Marcy comes to bust Walter and Lance in Kimura's hotel room. Lance encourages Walter to jump from the balcony using parkour, reminding him this is a physics problem in essence. Walter thinks back to his videogame and realizes it can calculate exactly the jumps that he needs to take. He takes the leap just as Marcy comes and shouts at him not to jump...and falls gracelessly, as she expected he would. Gangly scientist background does not mean you can act out a physics problem because life is not a video game. To accentuate the point, his video game avatar says "GAME OVER" as its falls.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Lance is looking on the hotel computer to find the room Kimura is being hosted, he finds his name registered as Not Kimura.Lance: Wow. That's clever.
- Take That!: When Lance has Kimura at his mercy, one of the Noodle Implements he needs to torture the information out of him is a Nickelback album.
- Tap on the Head: One of Lance's signature moves, used to easily knock out the big and burly Kimura almost instantly.Lance: Just three ounces of pressure to the vagus nerve, and look at your boy! Sleepy night-night.
- Teeny Weenie: Implied during Lance's transformation sequence: after his hand shrinks, he looks down into his pants and screams in horror.
- Token Evil Teammate: Lovey, oddly enough. When Marcy's agents corner Lance and Walter in Venice, she suggests that they Leave No Survivors. Lance, who has no qualms about killing when necessary, calls this "dark". During the Final Battle, she saves Marcy from a drone that was behind her shoulder, then claims she was aiming for Marcy's head.
- Toothy Bird: Lance notably has teeth in pigeon form.
- Tragic Villain: Downplayed. Killian was evil before he got scarred and his crew died but while he isn't justified for targeting everyone in Lance's agency, the loss of his crew is played in a sympathetic way since he truly cared for them.
- Transformation Trinket: At the end Walter is shown to have refined the antidote into a bowtie that transforms Lance back on contact, with him wearing it with his other clothes in human form.
- Truth Serum: Walter made one; it smells of lavender.
- Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Lance discovers that his pigeon body is actually female when he accidentally lays an egg. This ends up cluing in Walter as to what went wrong with the antidote, in a rare instance of this being more than a simple bird joke.
- Wham Line: As Lance destroys the drone Killian had and points out that his plan won't work because of this, Killian chuckles and asks this:Killian: You really thought I was gonna use one drone to take out every name on this list?!
Lance: I-I mean I did, until you asked that question that way. It cast some doubt.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Kimura seems to disappear from the film after Marcy catches up to the duo in Mexico. Marcy implies that she took him into custody given she says, "Kimura talked."
- What the Hell, Hero?: While Walter's pacifist attitude can be inconvenient at times, there is one bit where he has a legitimate point: that Lance is willing to use lethal force on the government agents sent to detain him via car chase. As Walter points out, they're employees doing their job, and Lance's former coworkers to boot. Why is Lance wanting to kill the good guys? Walter advocates for an oil slick rather than artillery.
- What You Are in the Dark: Throughout the movie, Walter has firmly believed that it's better to use non-lethal methods to deal with criminals. During the climax, Killian points out that if Walter shuts down his drones while they're both flying through the air, Walter will kill them both. Walter does shut down the drones — but he also wraps Killian in an "inflatable hug" device, saving the criminal's life even though this puts Walter himself at risk of falling to his death.