Review: THE BAD GUYS, Pleasant, Fun-Filled, Kid-Friendly Flick

The latest from DreamWorks Animation consistently soars on its visual style and imaginative set-piece pyrotechnics.

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
Review: THE BAD GUYS, Pleasant, Fun-Filled, Kid-Friendly Flick

While Pixar and Disney Animation continue to soar to newer and greater heights with each new theatrical or streaming release, scoring critical acclaim, commercial success, and Oscar nominations at essentially every turn, their chief rival, DreamWorks Animation, hasn’t fared nearly as well since Shrek and its immediate sequel, Shrek 2, made DreamWorks Animation not just a major name in the family-oriented animation space, but a ubiquitous merchandizing force practically on par with Disney.

Too often choosing quantity over quality, though, DreamWorks Animation’s reputation has suffered subsequently as a result. Their latest straight-to-cinemas release, The Bad Guys, probably won’t do much to elevate DreamWork Animation’s lackluster brand, but taken on its own, The Bad Guys is a splendid addition to their 40-plus-strong catalogue. For families willing to give it a chance opening weekend or via streaming sometime down the road, The Bad Guys offers a not-so-surprisingly pleasant diversion from everyday (and nighttime) cares.

Based on the bestselling, kid-oriented series by Aaron Blabey and inexplicably set in a reality where humans and talking, self-aware animals live in mostly peaceful coexistence, The Bad Guys centers on an anthropomorphic heist gang modeled on the George Clooney-led iteration of Ocean’s Eleven and its two lesser sequels. Led by a bipedal Canis lupus, Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) in bespoke suits and a cool, calm demeanor, the Bad Guys take all kinds of pleasure from the thrill of the chase, not to mention the thrill of the escape, from daylight robberies and/or heists (a bank in the first scene), stealing from the well-insured to give to themselves. It’s an unexamined life filled with the kind of surface-level excitement that Mr. Wolf doesn’t bother to question, especially when his immediate circle (aka, his heist gang) supports him all the way.

With the help of Mr. Snake (podcast legend Marc Maron, perfectly cast), an irascible, curmudgeonly, cold-blooded reptile who can slip in and out of any seemingly impregnable area with relative ease; Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), a lumbering land shark and a surprisingly effective master of disguise; Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), the team’s pint-sized muscle and sadly, the closest The Bad Guys comes to a racist or ethnic stereotype; and Tarantula (Awkwafina), the team's obligatory computer hacker and lone female, Mr. Wolf can do anything to anyone within reason and generally get it away with it, though it usually takes Mr. Wolf’s inspired driving skills to escape his longtime nemesis, the hyper-excitable, ultra-caffeinated police chief, Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein, delivering a big, broad vocal performance in line with her two-dimensional counterpart), and the city’s seemingly endless supply of interchangeable uniformed police officers.

Mr. Wolf’s lifelong embrace of crime, however, come into question when he inadvertently helps a little old lady from falling down a set of stairs at a bustling charity gala. It makes him feel good. That, in turn, sets up Mr. Wolf’s existential dilemma: If doing good actually makes you feel good, then why continue pursuing a life of criminal activity and risking eventual imprisonment and ostracism, especially if it makes him feel bad? It's a question every child eventually asks of themselves explicitly or implicitly.

Meeting the recently elected governor, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), like Mr. Wolf, a walking, talking bipedal animal, but unlike Mr. Wolf, a law-abiding citizen who's parlayed her natural charm and way with a political speech into higher office, also spurs him to rethink his life choices. Getting caught in the middle of a heist also gives Mr. Wolf a seemingly easy way out: Pretending he wants to do good and dragging his reluctant team along for a redemptive ride under the presumably well-meaning tutelage of the city’s celebrity humanitarian, Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a well-spoken guinea pig in bespoke suits and at least one seaside mansion to his name.

The Bad Guys mixes generally inoffensive themes (i.e., the danger of stereotypes, altruism vs. self-interest, the possibility of redemption/rehabilitation for felons), with preteen-oriented humor (Mr. Piranha’s flatulence problem), pop-culture references, and broad physical comedy, the last inspired by both Looney Tunes and Japanese animation. Deliberately embracing a less is more approach to animation, eschewing hyper-detailed photo-realism or its approximation for a more eye-pleasing, cartoon-influenced style, The Bad Guys consistently soars on its visual style and imaginative set-piece pyrotechnics, the latter all but making The Bad Guys worth the price of admission.  

The Bad Guys opens today (Friday, April 22) exclusively in movie theaters via DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures. Visit the official site for locations and showtimes.

The Bad Guys

  • Pierre Perifel
  • Aaron Blabey
  • Etan Cohen
  • Yoni Brenner
  • Sam Rockwell
  • Marc Maron
  • Awkwafina
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Alex BorsteinAwkwafinaCraig RobinsonDreamWorks AnimationMarc MaronPierre PerifelRichard AyoadeSam RockwellThe Bad GuysZazie BeetzAaron BlabeyEtan CohenYoni BrennerAnimationAdventureComedy

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