Based on the New York Times best-selling children’s novel of the same name, The Bad Guys is the latest work from Dreamworks Animation (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda) that as described by the books author, Aaron Blabey (you can read my interview with him here), “bridges the gap between Reservoir Dogs… but for kids”!
Opening with a fantastic reference to Pulp Fiction that the adults will enjoy, The Bad Guys is set in a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals live together, mostly in harmony. That harmony is usually put to the test by a gang of criminal animals who a notorious for pulling of daring and dangerous heist. In the gang is Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina) – they are known as ‘The Bad Guys’.
When the smooth-talking (and even smoother pickpocket) Mr. Wolf feels personally challenged after being called-out by the city’s red-fox governor, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beets), he decides to assemble his crew of criminals for their biggest heist yet… which unfortunately doesn’t go to plan. Offered a chance at rehabilitation by pompous-philanthropist-Guinea-pig Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (Richard Ayoade), ‘the Bad Guys’ attempt the one thing they never thought they’d be able to do – be good. But their absence from crime soon allows another villain to arise, causing the crew to decide whether being good is worth it.
Aaron Blabey’s renowned novel’s have been brought to such vivid life on screen. The characters that began their existence on the page as hand-drawn 2D sketches have vibrantly come alive in a truly unique and visually engaging art-form. Respecting the success of using different animation styles within one film, like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, this film also utilises a wide array of artistic layers to breathe life into this story. 3D rendered characters that most in a stop-motion like fashion, in front of scenic 2D backgrounds, really give The Bad Guys a visual flair that separates it from other animated films.
The creative decision headed by director Pierre Perifel (in his feature film debut) shows that he cares for the source material in a way that showcases its unique nature, both within the story and visually on the screen. Perifel’s ability to capture exciting action (with a genuinely great opening car chase), hilarious slapstick humour and entertainingly dynamic characters who all feel unique, serves as a fantastic introduction to his directing career.
The Bad Guys’ voice cast is another avenue in which these characters shine. Sam Rockwell just electrifies every scene he is in with an authentic ‘cool guy’ persona as Mr. Wolf. Rockwell’s charm and charisma, even just through his voice, makes for a great character in Wolf, and perfect voice casting. Wolf’s chemistry with his friend, Mr. Snake allows Marc Maron to show off his snarky, witty comedic chops, but also allows him to engage in some heartfelt, emotional moments later in the film as his friendship with Wolf is tested. These two, separately and together, are the standouts within this film.
Awkwafina and Anthony Ramos have such energy and vibrancy within their roles too, but the comedic timing and absolute anarchy of Craig Robinson as Mr. Shark undoubtedly steals the show with a solid joke or bit in every scene he is in. Specifically, Mr. Shark attempting to fool security guards into thinking he is currently having a baby as a distraction. The scene goes on for the perfect amount of time that it feels ridiculous, but doesn’t delve into the realm of annoying, and Craig Robinson tows that line incredibly well. Another cast member worth noting is Alex Borstein as the hot-headed Chief of Police, who has an ongoing vendetta against ‘The Bad Guys’ which serves for more hilarious moments that both kids and adults should get a solid kick out of.
The morals and messages in The Bad Guys are very wholesome and relevant to today. The emphasis on finding the good within the bad softy strikes a nerve on how quick society is to judge people, before giving them a fair chance, if justified. Initially, when Mr. Wolf begins to relish in this new feeling of ‘being good’, his wagging tail and puppy-dog eyes clearly display that being good feels immensely better than being bad, and it’s portrayed in such a way that the young target audience would hopefully find this idea attractive to them. And the film is not without its debaucherously fun moments where it’s hard not to find the villainous acts exciting, but the focus on there always being consequences for your actions is another theme that is well place within the narrative.
Like many animated family films over the last few years, there are points in which The Bad Guys drags pacing wise. The films first act is a large portion of the film, and while it’s full of hilarious and exciting moments, it does feel like it takes a little while for the story to really start. Clocking in at 100 minutes, perhaps some trimming around the edges could’ve made this a ‘punchier’ ride to go on.
With its unique animation and incredible voice cast, The Bad Guys explores important themes in a way that is exciting and hilarious to watch. There’s definitely franchise potential with these characters, and ‘The Bad Guys’ are a group of animal criminals that I wouldn’t mind visiting again!
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