“Spies in Disguise” is a fun, animated action movie. The story pairs super-spy Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith) and young, quirky inventor Walter (voiced by Spider Man’s Tom Holland) in a buddy-cop style adventure to save the world, with the added difficulty of Lance being turned into a pigeon in an experiment gone wrong. Along the way they learn the value of teamwork and accepting help and show the world that there are ways to deal with problems without resorting to violence. For James Bond fans, there are also several homages and parodical references to those movies throughout this film which are a fun addition.
This movie would be suitable primarily for older kids and preteens (9-14) as there is a fairly extensive amount of violence that would likely be troubling for younger children, as well as some nudity and ‘bathroom humor’ that edges into being inappropriate at times.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
The movie opens with a scene of Walter and his mom, where we see Walter’s desire to protect her and also make her proud. We later learn that his mom dies and as a young adult, Walter struggles to lead a life that would make her proud. However, he is often looked down upon for being ‘weird’ and different. These are all feelings that youth in care often struggle with: dealing with the loss of a parent (even if that parent is still alive, they aren’t with them), wanting that parent to be proud of them, having other people think they are strange because of their differences.
Throughout the movie, Lance Sterling, who is shown as a hero, claims that he doesn’t need anyone and prefers to ‘fly solo’. His sidekick, Walter, tried to prove to him that things are better in a ‘flock’ and helps him learn to accept help from his new friends. This is something a lot of foster and adoptive kids can relate to. Because of their circumstances and past experiences, they may feel like they have had to survive on their own and either don’t need help, or don’t trust those around them to have their best interests at heart. Lance learns to accept the help of his friends and that a ‘flock’ doesn’t leave anyone behind. This can be a helpful theme for children in care as they are often learning how to be part of a functional family system and building trusting relationships.
- Importance of Friendship/Teamwork:
Lance Sterling is the best-of-the-best super spy and everyone reveres him as a hero. In the opening sequence we see him defeat an entire room of bad guys basically alone. When he meets Walter, who offers help, Lance states that he prefers to ‘fly solo’. However, when Lance gets turned into a pigeon, he learns that he sometimes needs to rely on others and how being part of a ‘flock’ or team can be a good thing. This can be a good opportunity to talk to youth about the benefits of being able to rely on others and work as part of a team.
- Non-Violent Problem Solving:
Walter is a quirky sidekick who loves to invent new spy gadgets. However, his gadgets are unique in that they are not weapons and instead find unusual ways to solve problems with more friendly means, such as glitter or kittens. He claims that, “You can do more by bringing people together than blowing them up,” and that “there’s a better way”. In today’s world children are bombarded by images and stories of violence and it’s used to solve problems. This can be especially true in children from abusive homes or those who lived in areas with high community violence. Being able to see a hero take down bad guys without resorting to violence of his own shows that there are alternative ways to solve their problems.
- Being True to Yourself:
When Walter is young he worries that other kids don’t like him and that he’s too weird. His mom tells him that “the world needs more weird”. This is a theme that comes into play throughout the movie and Walter’s ‘weird’ ideas are often what helps his team succeed. This can be a good opportunity to discuss with children the things that make them unique and how sometimes the things about themselves that they think are ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ are actually some of their strengths. While Walter sometimes worries about how others think about him, he never changes to make them like him better. He always stays true to who he is, which makes him a great role model.
- Death of a Parent:
We learn early on that Walter’s mother (who seemed to be a single parent) has died and he is pretty much alone now. The death occurs off-screen and is not directly discussed, but the emotional impact this has had on Walter and his decisions is definitely portrayed and may be difficult for children who have recently experienced a parental loss.
The movie has an overarching theme of there being ‘a better way’ than violence to solve problems, and in the end the good guys win by using Walter’s inventions that have quirky, but effective alternatives to violence. However, it takes until the end of the movie for the main character, Lance, to value this approach and until we get there, there are frequent action scenes where the heroes must defeat groups of villains and there are a lot of guns and other weapons used frequently throughout the movie. Our heroes are also often in danger and there are times where it seems like one or more of the characters aren’t going to make it, which can be stressful to young viewers.
- Nudity/Bathroom Humor:
There is one scene in particular where you see a male villain’s rear end pretty extensively, though it is not shown in a sexual context and is intended to be humorous. Also, after Lance is turned into a pigeon (a female pigeon, no less), his anatomy as related to using the bathroom is used frequently as a running joke.
- Inappropriate Touching:
There is one scene where the villain’s finger gets shoved inside the private area of a pigeon. The scene is brief, and the act is not done in an intentional or sexual way, rather it’s intended for laughs. It will likely go over the head of most kids. However, for children who have been victims of sexual abuse, the scene may be upsetting.
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About the Author: Jenn Ehlers
Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.