CHICAGO – Mix one-part “Zootopia” with two-part “Ocean’s Eleven” and just a dash of “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” visual flair and you’ve got “The Bad Guys,” DreamWorks’ new animated capers. Based on the book series by Australian author Aaron Blabey, “The Bad Guys” tells its story around a group of career criminals who take their lack of morals as pride. But given how sweet these bad guys are to each other, is there any chance they might have a good side?
Indeed, in the same way that “Paddington 2” uses the charm of his family films to lightly touch the theme of prison reform, “The Bad Guys” has a thematic interest in restorative justice: What are the social forces that make a person bad? And what if instead of locking them in, we offered them a path to transformation and rehabilitation?
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While a truly great version of this material would push those themes further, “The Bad Guys” mostly keeps things on the lighter, more goofy side of the kids’ film spectrum. However, that touch of thematic depth helps elevate a fun family film that’s accompanied by the stylish, fast-paced heist film irreverence and some welcome visual originality. This is a DreamWorks animation filtered through the lens of a Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino action film. And it proved to be a very slick combo.
About “The Bad Guys”: So you tough guy, can’t get enough guys
The titular Bad Guys is a criminal crew made up of some of the most feared creatures in the animal kingdom. There is Mr. The fussy and safe Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Undercover Shark (Craig Robinson), the unwavering tech whiz Ms. Tarantula aka “Webs” (Awkwafina), Mr. A muscular Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and a friendly pickpocket/leader Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell) — George Clooney of the group. (That parallels the blatant film lampshade at one point.)
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As feature director Pierre Perifel first sets out in the “Pulp Fiction”-inspired opening sequence, the Bad Guys’ reputation precedes them. When people cowered in fear at the sight of the Great Evil Wolf, bank robberies were very easy. But have the crew members earned the nickname “bad guys” for their infamous heist? Or are they just living a life of crime because the world already sees them as bad people?
(from left) Shark (Craig Robinson), Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and Snake (Marc Maron) in DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys, directed by Pierre Perifel.
The film tests that question during the heist-wrong-wrong, where Mr. Wolf speaks to the crew out of jail time by suggesting the Bad Guys deserve a chance at redemption under the tutelage of Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a solitary – essential philanthropic guinea pig. And although Wolf quietly reassures his friends that this is all just part of an old con artist, the “goodness bubble” may be more addictive than he’d hoped.
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There’s an emotional core beneath the quick and loose jokes in “The Bad Guys,” thanks in large part to Rockwell’s soulful voice performance. He sold Mr Wolf as a dashing career criminal and a vulnerable man with hidden hopes and dreams. And it makes a deep impression on the film, whether Wolf is joking with his old friend Snake, teasing Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) or gently rescuing a cat from a tree.
(from left) Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) and Wolf (Sam Rockwell) in DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys, directed by Pierre Perifel.
Check out ‘The Bad Guys’ for: A new look from DreamWorks
Another big calling card for “The Bad Guys” is the stylized look championed by the animator turned director Perifel. Following in the footsteps of recent animated films such as “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”, “The Bad Guys” challenges the CG style that has become the standard for children’s entertainment. Instead, Perifel draws on traditional hand-drawn animated elements to give its world a whole new sense of depth and perspective.
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For example, even though the characters’ bodies are 3D, their eyes have an old-fashioned 2D look reminiscent of the Hanna-Barbera or “Looney Tunes” cartoons. The action sequences, meanwhile, are inspired by Japanese anime kinetics as much as the live-action villains. And although the entire film is animated, the mix of anthropomorphized animals and ordinary human characters is reminiscent of the mixed-media effects of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” — all touches that give the film a delightfully original aesthetic that complements its more familiar beats. villain-turned-good story.
(from left) Snake (Marc Maron) and Wolf (Sam Rockwell) in DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys, directed by Pierre Perifel.
Indeed, “The Bad Guys” ends up getting a little too enamored with action movie tropes in the second half, sacrificing the depth of its emotional themes for more memorized, plot-heavy incidents. (From the Bad Guys crew, only Wolf and Snake feel like fully developed characters.) Still, it’s refreshing to see animation propel the project in new directions rather than just leaning on the genre’s CG triumphs. If “The Bad Guys” doesn’t break into the top ranks of the animation echelon, it’s still a great time in theaters—and a solid calling card for Perifel as an animation director to watch.
Exclusive in theaters April 22. Rated PG. 100 minutes. Director: Pierre Perifel. Showing: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Craig RobinsonAnthony Ramos, Awkwafina, Richard AyoadeZazie Beetz, Lilly SinghAlex Borstein.
About the Author: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, he spent four years lovingly analyzing the romantic comedy genre films individually in his column When Romance Met Comedy for The AV Club. He has also hosted the film podcast, Role Calland shares his pop culture opinion on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
More kids entertainment — free streaming on Tubi
Paddington 2 (2018): With all due respect to the incredibly endearing original, “Paddington 2” will probably take the cake in the “sequel is better than the original” debate. This time, beloved Peruvian bear Paddington (Ben Whishaw) must face off against cowardly actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant in the best performance of his career) — not to mention reforming the prison-industrial complex in the process. Director Paul King maintains the series’ oddly homely feel while attributing it to a new philosophy: “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” Rated PG. 103 minutes. Director: King Paul. Also showing Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Brendan GleesonMadeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton.
Scooby-Doo Where Are You? (1969): Shaggy, Scooby, Fred, Velma, and Daphne pile into the Mystery Machine to investigate the sinister supernatural happenings in this classic Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera cartoon. If the kids in your life haven’t memorized the show’s iconic theme song, now is a great time to teach them. Rated TV-G. 25 episodes.
The Story of Fifth Grade Robin Hood (2021): Jon Lovitz does a bit of mustache fiddling (metaphorically) in this back-to-school comedy centered on a kid (Chase Brown) at a cash-strapped city high school and his battle against the embezzled Vice Principal (Lovitz). “Tales of a Five Grade Robin Hood” is a Original Tubi. Rated TV-PG. 84 minutes. Director: Dylan Vox. Also showing Stephen Kramer GlickmanIliana Isabella Perez, Jayden Scala.
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