Let’s say you’re a pop culture writer who’s just starting their day, puttering around the house in the near-dawn hours. On this particular day, you’ve awoken with the Juicy Fruit jingle from the 1980s stuck in your head. You know the one: “Juicy Fruit is gonna move ya / [Indiscriminate humming] through ya.” You’re curious about what those forgotten lyrics are, so you grab your phone, launch YouTube, search for “juicy fruit is gonna move ya,” and click on the thumbnail of an alpine skier superimposed against a yellow gum wrapper.
Now, before you get to watch this ad—before you can learn what those missing words were, before you’re shocked to find that one of the verses goes, “Take a sniff / Pull it out”—you have to watch another ad. This one’s a movie trailer, for the 2019 release from Blue Sky Studios, the non-Pixar animation house that’s not the Minions one, but not the Shrek one, either. “Well, this isn’t the mainlined nostalgia I was looking for,” you think as you catch your first glance of the suave, spindly spy whose name you’ll see plastered—as if “Lance Sterling” has the same built-in brand recognition as The Grinch or Meechee—under the words “Will Smith is” when you go to see the new Fantastic Beasts at your hometown megaplex over Thanksgiving weekend.
But as Lance leaps from helicopters, perches precipitously on ledges, and throat-chops a hulking goon, your thoughts turn from Reagan-era kitsch to 21st-century film convention. “What’s the hook here?” you wonder. “Surely Will Smith didn’t roll out of bed to voice an animated version of a conventional espionage thriller. Is it a Despicable Me scenario where he’s suddenly saddled with a brood of adorable moppets? Does Will Smith Is Lance Sterling’s world come tumbling down around him when he discovers he’s not a real spy but in fact the central figure in the daydreams of some Walter Mitty-type milquetoast? Is this a stealth Hancock sequel?”
But no matter where your fuzzy, post-tea but pre-coffee line of thinking goes, you’re not going to beat the trailer at its own game. This thing is as cunning as a super spy and as crazy as the megalomaniacal villain that super spy is trying to take down. All of your hunches will be incorrect. All of your snide dismissals will be unfounded. At the 50-second mark, you’ll be the one whose world comes tumbling down around them. Just watch this thing, which purports to be the first line of promotion for an animated family comedy, but is almost certainly a signal from an all-powerful AI testing whether or not you know you’re living in a simulation.
Look for Spies In Disguise in theaters next year; don’t go looking for your sanity—you’ll never recover it.
Oh, and those Juicy Fruit lyrics you forgot: “It’s got a taste that gets right through ya.”