Spies in Disguise (Photo: Fox)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Nick Bruno & Troy Quane
STARS Will Smith, Tom Holland

(For a look at The 10 Best & 10 Worst Films of 2019, go here.)

While 2019 has proven to be lackluster when it comes to animated features, here’s Spies in Disguise hoping to save the day — or, rather, the entire year.

Alas, ‘twas not meant to be. Instead, it turns out to be like so many other toon flicks from ’19: brightly designed, fairly entertaining, and instantly disposable.

While the premise sounds idiotic — Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith), the world’s top secret agent, is turned into a pigeon by Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), the agency’s nerdiest inventor — scripters Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor manage to mine it for some clever gags. Framed by his arch-enemy (Ben Mendelsohn) and pursued by a determined Internal Affairs officer (Rashida Jones), Lance finds that operating as a pigeon has its perks, as the transformation allows him to fly under the radar and avoid detection by agents and enemies alike. Unfortunately, it also finds him having to contend with a trio of pesky pigeons, all of whom consider him part of their flock.

The spy story is sturdy enough that it would have worked even if Lance had not been turned into a pigeon, and the vocal turns by Smith and Holland go a long way toward selling the appeal of their characters. But the movie grows more formulaic as it unfolds, and the message of solving problems through peaceful rather than violent means is admirable but leads to a draggy climax.

Instead of the usual G designation, Spies in Disguise is rated PG for “action, violence, and rude humor” — the latter for showing a villain’s bare bottom and for a discussion of the pigeon’s cloaca (think in scatological terms). Clearly, the folks at Blue Sky Studios (a subdivision of Fox … or should that now be Disney?) were hoping to also attract some adult viewers who might not necessarily have small fry in tow. But while Spies in Disguise has moments best appreciated by grown-ups, it’s ultimately a movie that’s, if not for the birds, then certainly for the children.

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