The Flawed Structure of “Spies in Disguise”

There’s an interesting animated film called “Spies in Disguise,” which is good, but not great. What’s good about “Spies in Disguise” is that it focuses on two main characters: a super-spy and a bumbling gadget maker who works for the spy agency.

The super-spy is confident and his belief is that you have to fight violence with violence. The gadget maker’s belief is that it’s possible to change people by not using violence. So these two beliefs clash and that forms the conflict of the story.

By starting out with two dominant, but conflicting beliefs, “Spies in Disguise” lays the foundation for a good story. Then it loses focus by not repeating this theme with the other characters.

A villain has framed the super-spy for a crime he didn’t commit, so now the super-spy has to run and hide. Unfortunately, this villain’s goal has nothing to do with the idea that you have to fight violence with violence. There’s a hint that the super-spy hurt the villain’s family, but it’s not clear and dominant enough so the villain just seems like a bad guy for no reason.

When the super-spy tries to clear his name, the spy agency sends a woman with a team of agents to catch him. Unfortunately, this woman’s goal is purely physical (catch the super-spy) and lacks any emotional goal similar to the story theme that non-violence is a better way to deal with violence.

So “Spies in Disguise” gets the two main characters right with a strong theme, but fails to echo that same theme with the other supporting characters. The end result is that “Spies in Disguise” falls short of a great story and just becomes a good one.

If you watch “Spies in Disguise” and take away the two main characters, the story is unfocused one its theme. If you just focus on the two main characters, you’ll see that the story remains focused on its theme. So the overall effect is a fractured story, and this fracture is what keeps “Spies in Disguise” from being a great movie. It’s really that simple.

So in your own screenplay, try to decide what your theme will be and then make sure every character echoes that theme. Failing to do this will likely result in an okay story like “Spies in Disguise,” but if you can do this, then you’ll likely achieve a great story, and isn’t that the reason why you want to write a story in the first place?

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