Australian Council on Children and the Media

Spies in Disguise

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Not suitable under 6; parental guidance 6-8 (frequent animated violence, sad themes, rude humour)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Spies in Disguise
  • a review of Spies in Disguise completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 7 January 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 6 Not suitable due to frequent animated violence, sad themes, and some rude humour.
Children aged 6–8 Parental guidance recommended due to frequent animated violence, sad themes, and some rude humour.
Children aged 9 and over Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Spies in Disguise
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes and animated violence
Length 102 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith), a James Bond-like American undercover agent, is facing the most challenging case of his career: a mysterious terrorist (voiced by Ben Mendelsohn) gets his hands on the world's most lethal drone technology as well as a classified database uncovering every single American secret agent. Seeking revenge for a past incident that killed his accomplices and left him badly injured, he plans to eliminate Sterling – who led the fateful mission – and everyone else working in the US intelligence. To make things worse, the villain manages to change his appearance to look like Sterling. Unable to prove his innocence to his agency, Sterling runs and turns to Walter Becket (voiced by Tom Holland), a nerdy scientist and inventor whom he had previously fired, dismissing his passion for developing non-violent / non-lethal spy gear and weapons. While at Walter's house, Sterling drinks what he thinks is a glass of water, but in fact it is Walter's latest invention, and Sterling is shocked to find himself turned into a pigeon. Initially struggling to get used to his bird body, Sterling begins to realise and use the advantages of looking like an inconspicuous pigeon, and also learns to appreciate Walter's non-violent approach, unconventional methods and unusual yet efficient inventions such as "kitten glitter bombs", "inflatable hugs", or a lavender-scented "truth-telling serum", and the unusual duo set off to stop the villain and protect the compromised agents.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Friendship; teamwork; questioning violence; promoting kindness and understanding; embracing difference; staying true to one's ideals.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is frequent animated action violence in this movie including:

  • Characters use guns, grenades, knives, tasers, batons and martial art moves.
  • Characters are beaten, punched, thrown through the air, shot at, smashed into walls, attacked by drones and buried under heavy objects.
  • Characters are not seen dying or bleeding but dishevelled and in pain.
  • At least one innocent character, a scientist, is thrown off a cliff and can be presumed to have not survived the fall.
  • Both Sterling and Walter have several life-or-death situations and only make close escapes.
  • In his pigeon form, Sterling gets heavily beaten with a computer keyboard and is thrown into a bin.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The main villain has a red gleaming laser eye and a robot arm that looks a claw and is a multi-use weapon. In one scene it is revealed that he has lost half his face which gives him a scary terminator-like half-face look.
  • The main villain is a shapeshifter and can change his appearance to look like other people.
  • There is a scene when it appears that Walter was killed in an explosion and Sterling is seen distressed and crying.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • It is revealed that Walter's lovely mother was killed on police officer duty. It appears Walter does not have a father either.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

  • Nothing of additional concern.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • Audi.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Walter's pet pigeon Luvvy falls in love with pigeon Sterling, rubbing herself against him, cooing and ruffling her feathers flirtatiously.
  • One of Walter’s weapons is a gun that fires rainbow paint, it is unclear whether he calls it "Fifty Shades of Gay" or "Fifty Shades of Yay".
  • While first transforming into a pigeon, one of Sterling's hands shrinks to a tiny size. Sterling then glances into his pants and screams with anger, suggesting that his private parts have also shrunken.
  • Sterling tells Walter that he has realised that both "number one" and "number two" come out the same way, and Walter explains that birds' genitalia are called a "cloaka" which is then a recurring joke.
  • A villain has pigeon Sterling by the neck and, thinking it is remote controlled, asks how to turn it off. His hand approaches the pigeon and by the look on Sterling’s face it is assumed the villain has pressed, or stuck his finger in, pigeon Sterling’s backside.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • A Japanese villain is surprised while having a bath and drops his towel he had wrapped around his waist, revealing his bare backside. As he bends down to pick up the towel, Sterling's wing covers what would be revealed.
  • Walter uses a weapon on the Japanese villain that temporarily turns all his bones to rubber, and his bare backside is seen several times.
  • When transforming back to his human shape, Sterling is seen topless and then realises and comments that he is naked.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Some Japanese villains are briefly seen consuming alcohol and gambling.
  • Sterling and some other pigeons fight over a glass of Martini.

Coarse language

  • None noted.

In a nutshell

Spies in Disguise is an action-packed animated spy movie. High-quality animation, a gripping Mark Ronson-produced soundtrack, likeable multi-layered characters, positive character development and plenty of humorous dialogues and scenes is likely to entertain and appeal to family audiences. However, due to the frequent animated violence, sad themes, and sexualised/rude humour the movie is not suitable for children under 6 and parental guidance is recommended for children aged 6-8.

The main messages from this movie are that violence is never the best option and that acts of kindness can go a long way. The movie also conveys the message that it is okay to be different, that it is important to accept help, and to work as a team.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • trying to solve conflicts with understanding and communication rather than violence
  • following your dreams
  • friendship
  • kindness
  • helping others, and accepting help
  • having ideals and standards and living by them.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • bullying - Walter gets bullied for being a ‘nerd’ and being "weird"
  • resentment and vindictiveness
  • fighting fire with fire, leading to "everyone getting burned".

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