The enjoyably throwback animation style of ‘Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy’ improves a disappointing plot.
Kernel Rating: 2 out of 5
MPAA Rating: NR Length: 81 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 10+. This animated film, which follows on a 10-year-old aspiring spy, is not rated, but its content aligns most with a PG-rated film. Agathe-Christine is investigating a case while being on the receiving end of bullying from her older sister and other kids in her new neighborhood; the crime seems to involve a kidnapping, and there are misunderstandings and miscommunications that make Agathe-Christine think she is witnessing abuse. Some violence and physical harm in the form of a child being bitten by a dog and a lizard-like creature that grows to be gigantic and threatening toward Agathe-Christine; some talk about crushes and kissing, a near-kiss in a dream, and Agathe-Christine’s mother thinks she is dating the boy she is actually investigating. Aside from some insults related to the bullying Agathe-Christine receives, there’s also one use of the word s—t.
By Roxana Hadadi
The child-investigator archetype has a long history, from the Boxcar Children to Harriet the Spy to Nancy Drew, and the animated film “Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy” operates as both an homage and a new entry into the genre. An originally Danish production that suffers a bit from what seems like a translated script, the real appeal of “Next Door Spy” is a special animation style that makes it look like every frame of the film was drawn by hand. The result is a film that often looks like a moving picture book, but that appeal doesn’t quite extend to a plot that is full of seemingly unconnected elements.
“Next Door Spy” follows 10-year-old Agathe-Christine, or AC (voiced by Simone Edemann Møgelbjerg), who along with her police officer mother, older teen sister, and younger toddler brother moves to a new city and a new apartment. (It’s not clear what precipitated this much-discussed “new start,” but it’s implied that either her parents divorced or perhaps her father passed away.) Although Agathe-Christine’s older sister is a typical phone- and boy-obsessed teen, and her younger brother is a seemingly normal toddler who just wants to play, Agathe-Christine is, well, strange. She insists on wearing a fedora and a red blazer. She has an array of gadgets she has put together or designed herself. She sets up an office and a peg board in the basement of their building. And she clutches tightly to an egg she found some weeks ago, which looks like it might hatch any moment.
AC’s mom, frustrated by her daughter’s obsession with acting like an adult investigator, desperately wants her to make some new friends; in contrast, AC is scouting the neighborhood for business as a private detective. Unbeknownst to each other, they make plans for AC’s summer: AC agrees to investigate who is stealing items from a nearby grocer, while AC’s mother signs her up for scooter lessons from their neighbor, Vincent (voiced by Oliver Bøtcher), a promising young skateboarder. Forced to hang out with Vincent, AC struggles to build a friendship with him while she suspects him as the grocery thief—and while she also might be developing a crush on him.
“Next Door Spy” follows AC as she works the grocery-store case, grows closer to Vincent, clashes with her mother’s completely different expectations for her, and—most weirdly—deals with the animal who hatches out of the egg. The creature looks like a lizard, talks to AC, and becomes increasingly antagonistic—and even tries to eat a member of AC’s family! It’s a very strange plot element that doesn’t fit at all with the rest of “Next Door Spy,” and it will probably make the film scarier for younger viewers in an unnecessary way. But there are unfortunately numerous moments in “Next Door Spy” that feel incongruous. From the very moment that Vincent and AC meet, people comment on how “sparks are flying” between them and AC’s mother is obsessed with the idea that Vincent could be her daughter’s boyfriend: “I have longed for this day and now it’s finally here. My little girl has a boyfriend!” she says. It all seems a little mature for a subplot about 10-year-olds. What that does to AC’s characterization is focus less on her own skills as a detective and more on the crush she has on this boy, and it makes the film less about this “next door spy” than the “next door guy.”
Still, from a visual perspective, “Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy” is quite lovely. A recurring design choice is that AC’s fantasies and dreams of her spy activities are rendered in dramatic black and white, a strong contrast to the film’s use of soft pastels otherwise. Those black-and-white sequences, in which AC chases a bad guy in a mask and striped shirt, a la classic French films, add some whimsy. But “Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy” goes overboard with certain subplots, in particular how heavily it promotes a child romance and that devious lizard creature, and those elements dampen what otherwise is an amusing foray into a young girl’s investigative ambitions.
‘Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy’ is available since June 16, 2020, for digital rental on VOD and online through Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, and others.