Here’s a manic, soulless animated kids’ caper, with a hug-a-hippo message for our eco-anxious times awkwardly bolted on. It’s a Chinese-French coproduction, combining James Bond spy gadgets with some superheroish action sequences that parents might find too bashy for pre-schoolers. Older kids may get the feeling they’ve been better entertained by fresher and funnier movies.
Like Zootropolis, the setting is an animal republic whose citizens have curbed their dietary requirements to live in harmony with one another. Top spy Vladimir, a flashy cat in aviator shades (voiced by Kirk Thornton), is demoted to working security detail at a power station after wreaking havoc while arresting a mafioso cheetah. Vlad’s boss at the spy agency, an enormous elephant, gives him the hairdryer treatment. “You’ve made this agency look like a terrorist organisation!” he bellows. Here and elsewhere, the humourless dialogue feels oddly unattuned to its young audience. Over at the power station, Vlad meets his new colleague, a geeky rat called Hector (Dino Andrade). When thieves attack, the pair fail to stop them making off with radioactive material. Can this odd couple work together as a team to discover the identity of the gang?
The trail leads to the city’s hospital, and a fussy plot line unfolds involving the radioactive material, global warning and species extinction. It gets boring very quickly and the film’s finger-wagging message about caring for the planet feels totally at odds with its destructive action sequences. The worst part is an objectionable female character, a bumblebee princess called Mia, who has a human-looking face and Barbie doll body-shape (waist half the size of her head). Simperingly, Mia stays put when instructed by the guys during a fight: “Wait here, it’ll be safer.” Gender stereotypes like this in kids’ films really do deserve extinction.
• Spycies is released in the UK on 14 February.