"The Bad Guys" stars Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Craig Robinson, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Lilly Singh, and Alex Borstein. Released on April 22, 2022, the film has a group of criminals attempting to become good guys.
The film features the directorial debut of Pierre Perifel, who's known for directing the short films "Bilby" and "Le Building". It is based on the children's book series of the same name by Aaron Blabey. Some people say that it's good to be bad, but the rest of us knows that it's good to be…well, good. For this band of criminals, being good is just as vile as stealing cash from the bank. This latest family comedy sees DreamWorks Animation providing a unique take on the heist genre and a slick new style. After witnessing the studio's recent disappointments, "Spirit Untamed" and "Boss Baby: Family Business" last year, here's hoping that it'll mark an improvement for the animation studio in my eyes. I honestly didn't realize that there's a graphic novel series called "The Bad Guys" until I researched it. It was released in 2015 and is still ongoing as of today, with its 15th novel releasing sometime this year. I haven't read many books during that time, aside from anything college-related, so maybe that's why I didn't notice its existence. But that doesn't mean it's too late for me to start getting into its concept. What better way to do that than with a film adaptation from one of the successful family-oriented studios? With that said, let's see if the film is good enough for me to recommend to families.
The movie is set in a world where humans co-exist with anthropomorphic animals. The story centers on "The Bad Guys", a group of notorious criminal animals known for committing the most infamous crimes in Los Angeles. The gang consists of Mr. Wolf (Rockwell), the cool-headed leader, safecracker Mr. Snake (Maron), Mr. Piranha (Ramos), the "muscle", Mr. Shark (Robinson), the master of disguise, and hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina). Their latest heist leads the team to steal a crucial award from guinea pig philanthropist Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (Ayoade). During the heist, Mr. Wolf unexpectedly helps an older woman he intends to pickpocket and is praised for his good deed. Inspired by his unintentional good act, Mr. Wolf came up with a brilliant plan to end all plans: pretending to be "good guys". He then seeks the help of Marmalade to learn how to perform good acts. During the process, Mr. Wolf finds himself being drawn to changing his ways, much to the dismay of their criminal friends. When a new villain arises with a plan for world domination, Mr. Wolf and the gang will have to do some good to stop this threat.
DreamWorks Animation has a way of providing clever and entertaining twists to specific genres from popular movies, even if some of their films don't match the quality set by Disney and Pixar. For "Shrek", it was the fairy tale genre made famous by Disney. "Kung Fu Panda" (one of my personal favorites) delivered a splendid and fun tribute to the kung fu films of yesteryear. The same should also be said for the likes of "Monsters vs. Aliens" (1950s sci-fi genre) and "Megamind" (superheroes). Their latest animated film, "The Bad Guys", sees the studio providing a family-friendly twist on the heist genre, made popular by several films like "Ocean's 11" and "The Fast and the Furious". How? Why, by making the criminals into dangerous yet cute and cartoony animals, because kids just couldn't get enough of those creatures acting like humans. I suppose that's another way to introduce younglings to the adult world of crime and heists.
While the story offers an intriguing perspective of the genre, the concept of villains developing into good people isn't entirely new, to no one's surprise. Regarding animated family films, that idea was already explored more than ten years ago with DreamWorks' "Megamind" and Illumination's "Despicable Me". So there's nothing too groundbreaking in this heist that hasn't been done before. However, that doesn't mean it should immediately be put in movie jail for the rest of its life. Despite its criminally familiar tropes, the movie has accomplished plenty of good deeds, resulting in it being a fun, slick, and visually appealing experience that families and even heist genre fans could enjoy.
The plot is a PG-rated version of almost every heist movie, complete with the studio's traditional elements like kid-friendly humor, fast-paced action, and an occasional fart joke or two. While it may not do much to stand alongside some of DreamWorks Animation's greatest hits and even some movies from its competitors, the film managed to steal my heart by packing enough comedy, action, charm, and style inside its tight narrative. The film moves along as swiftly as Mr. Wolf's getaway vehicle regarding its pacing. With its runtime of under two hours, "The Bad Guys" gets the point across straightaway without any unnecessary filler to drag itself down. But, of course, it also results in the film losing its sense of depth in its storytelling and messages in specific sequences. Nonetheless, it's a well-told and respectably fast-moving ball of energetic fluff that signifies the animation studio's signature quality.
Part of the film's heart comes from its themes, which define its characters and the world around them. "The Bad Guys" represents something that I would like to call "stereotype misjudgment", where people quickly call out others based on their appearances and actions. The main characters are the most dangerous animals on the planet and constantly steal from under people's noses, so they're judged as monsters (or criminals) by others out of fear. Take Mr. Wolf, for example. People always see him as the villain because he's the "Big Bad Wolf", and according to the laws of fairy tale storytelling, the "Big Bad Wolf" is always the bad guy in the stories. Throughout the film, we see Mr. Wolf unexpectedly finding himself determined to change this fact. This is a great way to teach younger audiences to treat people the way they're meant to be treated and give them a second chance to redeem themselves from their past mistakes. The film doesn't have the best representation of those themes, but its heart was in the right place regarding its execution and Etan Cohen's solid screenplay.
Another element that made this heist go by smoothly was the characters, mainly the Bad Guys. Sure, they resemble the same personalities as any other heist gang member, such as the hacker, the muscle, and the master of disguise. But they delivered enough heart, comedy, and freshness into their villainous personas to make themselves "good" role models for the film's target audience. This is primarily due to the incredible voice cast filled with some familiar faces. Sam Rockwell and Marc Maron were great together in their roles as Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake, respectively, both of which also serve as the film's heart in terms of their friendship. Ramos, Robinson, and Awkwafina also delivered some humorous moments as the gang's remaining members. I also enjoyed Richard Ayoade's performance as Marmalade, even though his character's true motive was a tad predictable, especially for those who read the source material.
The movie's style is unique compared to the studio's previous projects regarding the animation. It took inspiration from "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" and a handful of artists and directors regarding its presentation. Most of them include Hergé for the character designs and Quentin Tarantino for its visionary appeal. As a result, it fits well with its environment, action set pieces, and narration, but it's also a crisp and colorful blast of energy that resembles a graphic novel coming to life. It's like the film puts "Into the Spider-Verse", Looney Tunes, and an interactive Telltale game into a blender and mixes them to create a drink that looks and tastes heavenly. There's also a scene at the beginning that happens to be the longest one-shot in the studio's history, which I thought looked impressive from a cinematic and storytelling perspective.
Overall, "The Bad Guys" has enough style, energy, and heart to prove that it's good to be bad. While far from the best animated film of 2022, the film still provides a good deed for its audience by delivering the most entertaining and hilarious experience an animated family movie could offer. With its stellar voice cast, thoughtful messages, stellar animation, fast-paced plot, and a mixture of action and comedy, the movie marks a solid improvement over the studio's previous theatrical outings last year. I had a lot of fun with this film, which comes as no surprise considering my enjoyment towards most of the studio's projects, and there's a good chance you might have a good time with it as well. If you like watching heist movies and want to watch something other than "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" for the billionth time, this film is worth stealing, eh, I mean "seeing" with your family.