The upcoming animated film, SPIES IN DISGUISE, imagines a world where pigeons are spies – these tiny birds have a very big mission. And that’s kind of a metaphor for the movie in and of itself. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane wanted to create something fun and entertaining for the whole family, that when boiled down, had a big, important message.
“What I fell in love with, was it had the promise of all the big action spy movies, but at its core, it’s really about working together,” Bruno said. “And I loved having a story that tells that, in a spy world, where nobody trusts each other, nobody works together, so I really fell in love with the project.”
Masi Oka, who voices Kimura, says that what’s great about this film is that it isn’t just for kids. “There are so many adult themes. The humor is targeted for both kids and adults,” he said. “The whole family can see it.”
For Oka, the major theme of the movie is “embracing your weirdness.” At a junket for SPIES IN DISGUISE, he told us, “What makes you unique is you. And I want to thank everyone for being themselves. I think people should be proud of who they are, and they don’t have to be anyone else – just really embrace your weirdness. That’s a theme that resonates with kids now, but also with adults.”
The Heroes star joked that positive messaging aside, it was kind of a blast to play a villain for once. “It’s fun, you know, ’cause I actually don’t get to play villains that much, but he is like a middle boss. He is a villain, but then he turns out to be just this teddy bear. I love the fact that I could play with that duality,” Oka said.
However, he thinks it’s important to think beyond the trope of labeling people as merely good or evil. “Villains are the same thing as good guys, it’s just how they view the world, right? It’s just a POV,” Oka said. “Because in the villain’s mind, what they’re doing is right. So, it’s all a matter of perspective.”
This hearkens back to the film’s themes of unity and the importance of communication. “A lot of times, violence or fear comes out of lack of understanding,” Oka said. “Communication is important, in terms of being able to express your ideas. You don’t have to agree with them, but the idea that different ways of thinking exists, you have to be open to that. We can agree to disagree, but at least I’ve heard where you’re coming from.”
It was really important to the directors that the film has a bigger message, and not just be a glorification of violence. “When we use violence to solve our issues, all we do is create more enemies. We draw a line that puts people on the other side of that,” they said.
So, why pigeons? “Pigeons are those things that most people ignore or think are gross, but they’re really phenomenal,” the directors said. “That’s kind of where Walter’s genius comes in to play. As a spy, there’s no better thing to be than a pigeon. They’re in every major city around the world. People ignore them for the most part. But they’ve got all kinds of really cool, special abilities.”
Some of those “special abilities” include being able to fly 92.7 miles per hour – which I very much did not know – and having eyes in the side of their head, so they can see almost 360 degrees and therefore no one can sneak up behind them.
All that being said, the directors needed a special actor to fill the role of Lance, who is not only a brave, attractive, and confident spy, but also a goofy, lovable bird. And that’s where Will Smith comes in.
“We wanted to create a spy that stood alongside all those other great spies, but…also, who could come in and walk that line delicately to acknowledge that sometimes they have the wrong end of the stick on how they see the world,” the directors said. Someone like Walter (voiced by Tom Holland) can show Lance there’s another way, maybe a broader way of looking at the world.”
Though the messaging is a bit more family-friendly, the directors still wanted to pay homage to all of the classic spy movies. They credit Mark Ronson, who executive produced the soundtrack, with really helping to bring that vision to life. “Mark does a great job of taking some throwback vibes, but giving it a contemporary spin, that it really sounds full and contemporary.”
“We like to think of this movie as a love letter to all spy movies,” Bruno said. Though, again, “It’s not just about violence or explosions. It’s really about how coming together can save the world.”
Oka left reporters with a beautiful closing message that he thinks is evident in the film. “When I teach kids improv, I always tell them, you are enough,” he said. “Because you don’t need to be more than who you are – you are special yourself. You are enough.”
Physical comedy, A-list actors, and a killer soundtrack aside, SPIES IN DISGUISE is all about embracing your weirdness. Could you really ask for a better message this holiday season? SPIES IN DISGUISE hits theaters on Christmas day and you can read our spoiler-free review of the film here.