NEXT DOOR SPY: A Low-Key Mystery for Kids

After being pummeled by an endless salvo of the manic animated affair, there’s such a quaint charm to the quiet Next Door Spy. While not enthralling enough to be whimsy that sweeps the age ranges, the simplicity present in design and story is something that I haven’t seen in quite some time. It’s almost nostalgic. I’m sure parents can appreciate a less loud picture that seems better suited for a cooling down period in the go-go lives of kids. Maybe the wee ones will get bored by the understated nature but it’s worth a try if only for a comfier distraction.

New Kid, New Town, New Profession

With a name like Agatha Christine, it’d be safe to assume this new girl in town would favor either solving mysteries or writing them. Since writing isn’t exactly as exciting for a kid’s animated movie, Agatha aspires to be a detective. Before she has even seen her new apartment with her mom, older sister, and baby brother, she’s already fantasizing about a noir adventure. The colors drop and she views herself in a trenchcoat and fedora, scaling rooftops as she chases after criminals. It gives her a day-dreamer quality akin to the likes of cartoon characters from Doug and Hey Arnold, a telling sign that her life may be so dull she needs more of a distraction.

NEXT DOOR SPY: A Low-Key Mystery for Kids
Source: TriCoast Entertainment

Agatha is naturally a bit underwhelmed with her new home. She has to share a room with her sister and doesn’t know much of anyone in the neighborhood. More of an introvert, Agatha seeks an office in the building basement, letting her imagination run wild in secret. She even finds a little lizard friend who speaks her language, clearly representing her nagging consciousness as the film goes on and the lizard grows bigger. Thankfully, the lizard is not meant to be the slapstick-saddled comic relief character and acts as someone more or less limited challenger to Agatha’s true feelings.

A Mystery For The Kids

Agatha is a shy girl and it’s easy enough to see why with her family. Her mom is constantly working and thus her interactions with her family are minimal and awkward, making stumbling attempts to force Agatha out of her shell. Agatha’s older sister is the typical teen with far more to do outside the house and slings sarcasm and snark with ease. Agatha’s baby brother is…well, a baby. She needs an escape.

NEXT DOOR SPY: A Low-Key Mystery for Kids
Source: TriCoast Entertainment

Committed to starting her own detective agency, the end goal being responsible enough to prove she can have a dog in the house, she finds her first case within the local shop across the street. The store owner has been noticing some pilfering going on and would really appreciate the culprit being caught in the act. Agatha offers her services and haggles to receive a payment if she catches the thief. What starts as a simple case of surveillance soon turns into a mildly complex motive of family ties and missing dogs.

A Gentle Case

While Next Door Spy doesn’t have a whole lot of sweetness to make it a wholesome picture for the whole family, it does have an understanding and gentle nature throughout. Though there is a culprit to apprehend, the intent is not insidious nor the nature of her mysterious figure’s characters. Though this kind of staging doesn’t exactly make for the most gripping of mysteries, it does add a dose of realism to the world. Agatha’s world is weirdly content with characters bound by slice-of-life desires. There’s peer pressure, social anxiety, child care, and even some young love that comes bundled with a certain tenderness. Agatha has a certain every-kid quality to her that makes her more of a relatable sleuth for the wee ones.

That being said, Agatha has some extra talents in her roster of case solving. She’s revealed to be a bit of a tech wizard, making it easy for her to sweeten the deal of her first case by offering to install security alarms and cameras. She additionally uses a drone to help out with her solving skills, though she’s not above using a classic periscope to peer over store shelves. But, again, she never goes full 1980s nerd by crafting a robot or something more fantastical. Her technical expertise has a certain edge of the relatable as well.

Cheaply Chipper

Within the first few minutes, the film instantly brought me back to my college days of assembling animation layers in After Effects. There’s a flat nature to the assembly of the film, where limbs move with more of a tweening motion with little divergence from their angular perspectives. It has a storybook quality to it, akin to videos one might associate with the reading of a children’s illustrated novel with accompanying motion graphics.

NEXT DOOR SPY: A Low-Key Mystery for Kids
Source: TriCoast Entertainment

The whole experience definitely has that look and appeal of a student project, given the rigid movements of colorful characters and the soft story pulling them along. There’s something very telling about that kinda animation protruding into the movie scene. Over a decade ago, such styles were relegated to short films. Now they occupy entire features, a remarkable progression of just how far computer animation can go to weave a feature film that feels more complete than a string of set-pieces.

Conclusion: Next Door Spy

Next Door Spy is a timid animated film but maybe just enough for the kids come quiet time. It presents a hero who saves the day more with smarts than action, a case that most kids feel like they could solve, and has just enough imagination to appeal to the youthful day-dreamers. I certainly felt a bit out of place as an adult who felt fleeting charm from such a low-key adventure with a shy hero but was warmed enough by the simple spirit that I hope some kid gets more out of its chipper edge.

Did you see Next Door Spy? What did you think? Would you watch it with your kids?

Next Door Spy will be available digitally in the US on June 16th.


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