In the chaotic and hard-hitting world of espionage, the stakes are typically high, the characters are dangerous, the action is intense and the message is well, non-existent to say the least. In Nick Bruno and Troy Quane’s new animated film “Spies in Disguise,” the ingredients for a great espionage story are there, but the duo also added a little extra— a moral message that can reach audiences of all ages. After recruiting huge Tinsel Town names to sign on, both Bruno and Quane set out to make an animated film that was funny, meaningful, and most importantly, realistic to the classic world of espionage. “Spies in Disguise” follows Lance Sterling (Will Smith) the”World’s Greatest Spy” and his genius science whiz co-worker Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) after Walter turns Lance into a pigeon to now be the greatest “spy in disguise.” After a series of classic obstacles and quite hilarious moments, both Lance and Walter learn a little more about themselves and what it really means to come together as human beings.
Both Bruno and Quane sat down with Metro to discuss why they love the story, what went into making the film “realistic” and overall what they hope the film’s message brings to audiences.
‘Spies in Disguise’: Directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno talk new ‘realistic’ spy film with a meaningful message
What initially intrigued you to sign on with this project?
TQ: It was originally a short film about a spy on his lunch break, and a pigeon who sort of ruins it by trying to get a bagel. We thought it was a fun premise and cute, but with a full film, you have to find a bit more than that to say with it. What would be more annoying to a spy than getting his lunch ruined? What if the spy got turned into a pigeon? That’s something you can make a story about. Then you start thinking, okay, well the world of espionage is a world where people don’t trust each other and don’t get along well, and that became a story worth telling: What happens if you’re the world’s greatest spy and you get turned into a bird, and then you have to learn to trust in other people in order to save it? That felt like a really interesting stage play. Plus the appeal on top of that was to be able to make a spy movie— all the action, adventure, car chases and travel to cool locations. But then we wanted to laugh and have fun, so making it a buddy comedy felt right and all of the pieces just began to come together and we really had something to say.
NB: It was the same draw for me. On a technical level, we’ve never worked together before this, but we were both really drawn to coming up with the same message. It’s very unique, most movies aren’t directed by two people at the same time, but with this, we really had the same vision. At Blue Sky Studios there are over 500 people, so it was great to have teamwork be the message of the film and also how we made the film as well.
What are the benefits and challenges of working on an animated film compared to live-action?
NB: I would say a benefit in making an animated film is really understanding what every group does and how they do it and what they’re expecting. When you’re a director you have a vision in your head, but how do you communicate that? I like to say we talk a movie into existence, and with each group there is a very specific way that you have to talk to them to try and pull that out. It’s great to have that perspective.
TQ: You definitely have more time to perfect your story with animation. The upside with live-action is you get there a lot quicker, if you want to make a change it’s a lot faster. You can shoot a whole scene live action in two days, but for us it takes months. But they are both just different versions of finding your way to a great story hopefully.
It was important for you both to make this a very realistic spy movie— were there any specific films that you drew inspiration from?
NB: We studied all of them, but I would say one of our favorites that we drew from would be “Skyfall.” The concept of turning the world’s greatest spy into a pigeon is a little ridiculous, but we didn’t want this to be a spoof, and there is a really important message for kids, so we wanted to feel that the movie had the legitimate grounding to it. So we played close attention to the tropes of spy movies, and when it came to science we actually were looking into the real science of it all. Obviously, you have to make some stuff up because nobody has done that yet, but most of the stuff we talked about really is a way to break into genetics. We just wanted to make sure that the characters felt sincere and that the kids believe that this is the world we live in as well.
Was Will Smith always your top choice for the character of Lance?
TQ: Yes, we wanted to make a legitimate spy movie and to make the character of Lance Sterling iconic and be able to stand up and counted amongst James Bond or Jason Bourne, and we knew that would take a pretty big performance. It had to be someone who was funny, larger than life, and a little arrogant but still so charismatic that you wanted to cheer for him. So when we talked about our heroes growing up and who could fill those shoes— it was just always Will Smith, he’s got such a charm and a charisma. He was the one person who we thought could make this character unique, so we pitched him the movie. He’s such a grounded and down to earth guy, and he’s not just a great actor, but also a great storyteller. He loves to be involved with what we’re saying with the movie— he loved the idea of the big action, the spy stuff, the science angle and the comedy with being turned into a pigeon, but he also really loved the underlying story of how coming together can make us stronger and that’s how we’re going to make a difference in the world. He’s really aware that we will have kids coming to the audience and he really wanted to make sure that we are saying something to them that’s worthwhile.
Overall what do you hope audiences take away from the film?
NB: I think the biggest thing is that we might have our differences, but it’s important that we find a way to work together whether we’re on the soccer field or on the world field, and it’s important to find some common ground because we are all just people.
TQ: I hope families, from adults to kids, can come together in one place, laugh together, have some adventure together and walk away feeling like they had a great time. I think people always want to come into the film being cool like Lance Sterling, but hopefully, they walk out wanting to more like Walter Beckett.
“Spies in Disguise” hits theaters Dec. 25