This occasions a lot of bizarrely explicit jokes about pigeon anatomy, in which the word “cloaca” is thrown about more than usually happens in family movies, or indeed almost anywhere else. The weirdness is doubled by the fact the orphaned Walter views Lance as a surrogate father figure, then doubled again when it transpires the pigeon Lance has become is specifically female (though still equipped with Smith’s voice). The Blue Sky animation studio, which produced the film, presumably has its own psychologists on the payroll; perhaps they aren’t being paid enough.

Other questions may spring to mind for viewers over the age of 10, roughly the cut-off point for this sort of thing. Are there racist overtones to the handling of the secondary Japanese villains, starting with the opening Kill Bill tribute where Lance singlehandedly fights off or evades hordes of Yakuza, distracting them with images of cute kitties supplied by Walter? No malice seems intended, but it’s fair to suppose more care would have been exercised if Hollywood cared about the Japanese market as much as it does about the Chinese one.

Then there’s the oddity of hearing Ben Mendelsohn’s Aussie accent emerge from the mouth of Killian, the film’s terrorist Big Bad, who is ethnically ambiguous, but seemingly not meant to be Australian (when he referred to his “people”, I had trouble telling who was meant).

Equally jarring, in the family movie context, is the frankness about the fact Lance’s job offscreen involves routinely jetting around the world killing foreign enemies — to the dismay of Walter, who has devoted himself to inventing non-lethal weapons in an effort to encourage a kinder, gentler approach to America’s role as the world’s policeman.

These fanciful gadgets supply most of the better visual gags: there’s a glitter bomb, for instance, meant to deter aggression by boosting serotonin levels. (Walter has trouble explaining this, and has to resort to lay terms: “Glitter makes people happy.”) Then there’s a ray that appears to melt the bones of its targets temporarily, reducing them to lumps of Play-Doh to be stretched and squished.

In the midst of all the silliness, the running foreign policy debate between Lance and Walter is conducted in relatively earnest tones. Mostly the film is in Walter’s corner, even allowing him to maintain that “there are no good guys and bad guys” — not a sentiment we’re used to hearing from a sympathetic character in a Hollywood movie of any stripe. Then again, events suggest this is more an ideal than an expression of literal truth and pigeon or not, Lance remains the alpha male of the story, while Walter is the kind of dithery weirdo understood to be a suitable identification figure for a small child (or a nerdy screenwriter).

Like so many of its ilk, Spies In Disguise is far more sophisticated than it needs to be and yet totally disposable. In decades to come, these movies will presumably be as forgotten as the spy spoofs of the 1960s, championed by no one except the Quentin Tarantinos of tomorrow. Still, researchers who set out to sort through the piles of discarded ephemera may well find themselves scratching their heads.

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