We're many years removed from the so-called Willennium, but as watershed years go for the former Fresh Prince, it doesn't get much bigger than 2019. Smith returned in a big way this year. He starred in his all-time biggest hit, performed in a prestige action movie that pushed the boundaries of next-gen technology, and is finishing 2019 strong with SPIES IN DISGUISE, an animated feature with a punny title and cheeky plot that gives Smith a chance to stretch his comedic wings.
Let's take a look at how Smith got here, why SPIES IN DISGUISE feels so great, and what's next for the superstar.
[Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures]
Before Smith returned to the big screen in this summer's flashy live-action remake of Disney's ALADDIN, appearing in the role immortalized by Robin Williams in the animated original, he had spent a bit of time away from the big screen. It's strange for one of the biggest and most recognizable stars on the planet, but absence made everyone's heart grow fonder.
ALADDIN reminded anyone who needed prompting why they fell in love with him in the first place. The result was a smash, taking in more than a billion dollars worldwide. That was enough to make it Smith's most successful film of all time and enshrine the star atop the A-list. Smith followed up ALADDIN with GEMINI MAN, a groundbreaking action thriller from Oscar-winning filmmaker Ang Lee, that saw Smith play two roles: a hardened older assassin and his younger clone. The movie utilized photo-realistic motion capture technology and was shot in a high frame rate, giving the whole thing the aura of eerie believability. It was fun to see Smith anchor a big action movie once more, and the ultimate contribution to the art of filmmaking from GEMINI MAN might be huge.
SPIES IN DISGUISE riffs on cornerstone aspects of Smith's star power: His ability to seem entirely smooth and composed under pressure; his impeccable sense of style; and the endearing incredulity with which he greets surprising situations. The agent played by Smith, Lance Sterling, is basically a parody of a Will Smith character, but the actor is in on the joke. In that way, there's a goofy and entertaining meta aspect to this movie, which makes the animated caper the ideal way to cap off a year of Will Smith.
Smith returns to animation for the first time since 2004's SHARK TALE with SPIES IN DISGUISE. Produced by Greenwich, Connecticut-based outfit Blue Sky Studios (the team behind ICE AGE and RIO), SPIES IN DISGUISE is based on a 2009 animated short entitled "Pigeon: Impossible." It follows a nerdy scientist and gadget designer (Tom Holland) who turns Smith's smooth-talking spy into a pigeon. No one can claim that this is a too-familiar story!
Ben Mendelsohn voices the bad guy, who has a robotic arm, and the voice cast also includes Reba McEntire, Karen Gillen, and Rachel Brosnahan. Mark Ronson helps with the music. Expect a fun, fast-paced family outing; it's the perfect film for the holiday season. To that end, SPIES IN DISGUISE comes to theatres on Christmas Day.
Smith rose to stardom in part because of his uncanny knack to pick projects that had wide appeal and were perfectly suited to his personality. Think of MEN IN BLACK or I, ROBOT, and even the new ALADDIN. His big movies are films that everybody can enjoy and walk away thinking, "wow, Will Smith sure is great!" SPIES IN DISGUISE seems to be one of those projects, continuing Smith's celebrated return to the top.
All images courtesy of Dreamworks Animation.