We spy a new spy movie: The animated Disney film Spies in Disguise is set to open on Christmas Day, and SYFY WIRE had a chat with directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, as well as star Masi Oka, as the film kicked up its press day in Los Angeles this week.
In Spies in Disguise, superspy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is accidentally turned into a pigeon by his lowly tech officer Walter Beckett (Tom Holland). The two end up having to use rather unusual techniques and teamwork to take down the villainous Killian (Ben Mendelsohn). It's a whimsical take on the genre, but the movie's certainly got some superspy classics in its DNA.
"We'd like to think of this movie as a love letter to all spy movies," Bruno tells SYFY WIRE. "We know that for kids, this might be their first real spy movie, so we wanted to do it justice. So we did our research, we went back we watched all the Bonds, the Bournes, the Hunts, watched all those guys. And you know there's definitely some homage in there to some other movies. But at the same time ... we want to do something different and, because it's a movie for kids, we felt there was a responsibility to say something about teamwork."
Bruno also sheds some light on the classic spy movie title sequence in the film, noting: “When we first started, we did our research, and really enjoyed going back and watching all the spy films. And one of the things that we really loved was all those title sequences. But because this movie is fully animated, we could do more of that."
To that end, he notes, "We looked at some of the Saul Bass stuff" — he's the influential graphic artist behind The Man with the Golden Arm and Psycho sequences — "and some of their angularity, and their shape and their color language, and we just tried to find ways to get that DNA into the frame of the film.”
“But not necessarily make it a vintage throwback," Quane adds. "We really wanted to make it feel contemporary and current. [We asked ourselves], what were the aesthetic design principals we appreciate there, but making it feel current so it didn’t feel like a throwback.”
Oka plays one of Killian’s henchmen named Kimura, who has one of the best physical comedy gags in the film. He compares Kimura to a type of character in Japanese Westerns. “He’s not really an action guy, per se," the actor says. "He tells people what to do ... there’s all these Japanese Jidaigeki, the Westerns of Japan, where you have the big boss Daimyō, that sits in the back and tells his henchmen, ‘Go! Go get him!’ That’s pretty much my inspiration. The guy who doesn’t do anything, just watches all his henchmen, and of course, all the henchmen die, and he’s like, ‘Oh, OK. I’ll take care of it myself.’”
Oka also describes Kimura as a “teddy bear,” whose “deepest, darkest secret is that he has peed in a pool,” he quips.
Spies in Disguise opens in theaters on Dec. 25.