Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy (2020)
I don’t know what it is about me that I am the one who has to review all the kid's films. I don’t have kids. I don’t want kids. I am reasonably sure I’m almost thirty. Regardless, here I am with another kid's film.
Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy (2020) is an animated Danish production set to release on the 16th of June, on VOD everywhere. One of my favourite films as a kid was Harriet the Spy (1996), which started my lifelong love of the noir and mystery genres. Seeing as it was remade ten years ago as Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars (2010), and was only notable for starring the Santa girl from Santa Girl (2019), I was keen to relive my childhood dream of childlike private detective work with Agathe-Christine.
Spoiler alert: I quit that dream when I found out that private detective work is essentially just sitting in a car for twelve hours until you take a photo and leave and you don’t actually solve crimes. Harriet the Spy (1996) lied to me, man… Every noir lied to me…
Pictured: the majority of spy work
A ten-year-old private detective, the titular Agathe-Christine herself, moves to a new town and she and her family struggle with adjusting to the move. I’m always fascinated by films about moving, because that simple fact in itself tells a whole story of its own. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll get to AC and her detective agency in a second, but her mum must be going through hell right now, and you can see it in her animated eyes. She is a champ. She is trying her hardest, but something only happened recently for them to lose a father figure. AC has a baby brother. What happened? What’s that story?
Personally, I feel like this almost works as a pilot to a larger series, and maybe they would have explored that in the future? Or maybe AC’s obsession with spy work and solving crimes is her coping mechanism for losing her father. It’s dark, man. Dark. It’s a genuine noir, there’s always something darker happening right outside your point of view.
Pictured: The Third Man (1949)
Anyway, the plot. The story. Like any good noir, the mystery the detective thinks they're solving is never the mystery they need to solve. It’s honestly impressive how this children’s film for children, works with so many well-worn tropes of such an adult genre, but in a way that is both palatable and understandable for kids. AC follows one lead that is logical in a childlike way, but as she unveils what the true mystery actually is, it’s kind of obvious all along.
It’s impressive for a kid’s film, but I’m almost thirty. I was like, “Oh come on, the answer is obviously ______”. I really wish I watched this with a nephew or niece or something. I might be giving young people less credit than they deserve.
8/10 if I find out what happened to her dad in the sequel.
As a relatively low budget foreign animated film, I wasn’t expecting Disney levels of animation. The animation work here is all done via motion tweening, which is a legitimate technique; I’m not bashing. But when you’re coming from such a rudimentary form of animation, you have to make up for it in other places.
Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy (2020) achieves this with stylistic, cute character design and really impressive lighting. The characters are drawn in such a way that they look like a children’s book come to life, and I really can’t stress how impressive the lighting is. Light realistically blooms when it would otherwise be over-exposed, and the difference between the interiors and exteriors are like night and day. The differences between night and day are also like night and day, funnily enough.
Pictured: Good cinematography
The times when the visuals are most impressive though are when AC daydreams her private detective adventures. The black and white chiaroscuro cinematography mimics classic noir style in a really fun way. The most notable moment being in the third act break, when the whole world starts to bend and become even more outrageous and stylised.
The only character I didn’t like the design or animation of overall, was that damn talking lizard.
Oh sorry, didn’t I mention that talking lizard before? Yeah, there is a talking lizard. It’s a pretty big deal. Surprised I didn’t notice before watching the movie because it's in full Godzilla mode on the poster!
Yeah. Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty, Clarice had Hannibal, Agathe-Christine has a Goddamn lizard monster, who I SWEAR at one point was gonna eat the baby brother. Just snap him up. Gulp. Slurp. Different movie now. Now it’s a kaiju film. Better get that Mechasuit AC because you’ve got a Danish Godzilla on your hands!
Pictured: I swear there's a lizard in the movie, but this is the closest thing to a picture of it that I have! I'M NOT CRAZY!
It wasn’t until around the end that I realised that the giant talking lizard monster probably isn’t real, and is most likely symbolic of her own self-doubt. Half of me wants to say that it was well-handled, because like self-doubt, the lizard seemed small and helpful; just looking out for her well-being. However, the more she listens to it, the bigger and more aggressive it becomes, until it literally leaves her work life and enters her personal life.
The other half of me wants to say, “GET THE HELL AWAY FROM GODZILLA, MAN! THERE’S OVER THIRTY MOVIES TELLING YOU WHY THIS IS A BAD IDEA!”
The mystery is fun. Watching a child not realising that she’s catching feels for a possible criminal is fun. The lizard is terrifying and I don’t want to see that lizard ever again and may have nightmares about it, but I guess fun.
Pictured: Oh yeah, there's a romantic subplot as well. Sorry.
If you’re almost thirty and childless, you’re probably doing fine without it. As a fan of the noir genre, I had a great time analysing how it utilises those tropes, but I’m a film nerd; it’s what I do. I think for kids it’s great fun, and especially better than Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars (2010). Even with Santa Girl from Santa Girl (2019).
8/10 for kids
7/10 for nerds who analyse noir tropes
6/10 for normies