Though shunned by some moviegoers, animated films are where you can find some of the best creativity in filmmaking. Unrestrained by the rules of the real world, they can offer up any number of extraordinary scenarios without audiences blinking an eye since literally anything can happen. Naturally, some movies use this freedom in better ways than others, as the new animated film The Bad Guys demonstrates.
Based on the popular kids’ graphic novel series by Australian author Aaron Blabey, the film features a criminal group made up of the suave Wolf (Sam Rockwell), cantankerous Snake (Marc Maron), techy Tarantula (Awkwafina), master-of-disguise Shark (Craig Robinson), and muscular Piranha (Anthony Ramos). The group is known far and wide for their burglary skills, to the point that normal citizens just get out of their way whenever they show up.
When one of their heists doesn’t go as planned, they attempt to wriggle out of trouble by convincing local hero/good Samaritan/guinea pig Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) and Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) that they can be rehabilitated under Marmalade’s guidance. Of course, that’s just a scheme to get what they really want … until they discover that being good can actually make you feel good, too.
Directed by Pierre Perifel and written by Etan Cohen, the film is inventive in a number of ways. The world of the film is one in which humans and talking animals live side-by-side as if that’s completely normal. Yes, the bad guys are animals, but so too are Professor Marmalade and Gov. Foxington, so it’s not as if there’s some natural separation between the species. To add to the mixture are non-talking animals like cats and smaller guinea pigs being subjected to experiments, which raises several questions that the film glides over.
A blend of 2D and 3D animation, the film is a visual delight from beginning to end. Most notable is the eyes of the many of the characters, which have a different style from the rest of their faces, making for a unique contrast that draws the viewer in. The animators do similar tricks on other elements throughout the film that complement the story extremely well.
Most of all, though, the film is just plain fun. The film riffs on the Ocean’s series in a way that adults will recognize but doesn’t alienate kids. The ridiculous nature of animals, especially an enormous shark, disguising themselves with a mere change of clothes can’t help but amuse. And there are a number of sight gags and callbacks to earlier jokes that show the filmmakers know how to please viewers of all ages.
The main quintet is comprised of actors who fit their roles very well, especially Rockwell and Maron, whose real-life personas are similar to those of their respective characters. Awkwafina, thanks to her instantly recognizable voice, will work for years in animated films if she wants to. Robinson and Ramos aren’t as distinctive, but they each bring their own flair to their roles.
The Bad Guys is a boon for Dreamworks Animation, whose other current franchises (Trolls, The Croods, Boss Baby) haven’t fully lived up to expectations. With 14 books and counting in the series, there is plenty of source material from which to draw new stories, so we can expect to see much more of these bad/good guys for years to come.
The Bad Guys opens in theaters on April 22.