‘The Bad Guys’ are having a good time

From left: Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell) and Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina) in DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys by Pierre perifel.

Editor’s Note: This Verification originally ran hit theaters on April 22, 2022 as The Bad Guys. It was re-released in light of the film’s recent premiere on Peacock.

Mix one part Zootopia with two parts Ocean’s Eleven and just a pinch of the visual flair of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and you have The Bad Guys, the new animated caper from DreamWorks. Based on the book series by Australian author Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys is about a pack of career criminals who take pride in their lack of moral scruples. But considering how cute these villains are to each other, is there a chance they do have a bright side after all?

Indeed, “The Bad Guys” has a thematic interest in restorative justice, much like “Paddington 2” used its family film charm to easily address issues of prison reform: What social forces shape someone to go bad? And what if instead of just locking them up, we offered them a path to transformation and rehabilitation?

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While a truly great version of this material would have pushed these themes even further, The Bad Guys mainly keeps things on the lighter, goofier side of the children’s film spectrum. Still, that touch of thematic depth helps highlight a fun family film that boasts stylish, fast-paced heist film irreverence and a welcome visual originality. This is a DreamWorks animation filtered through the lens of a Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino action movie. And that proves to be a winningly smooth combination.

On “The Bad Guys”: So you’re a tough guy, just can’t get enough of it

The titular villains are a criminal gang made up of some of the animal kingdom’s most feared creatures. There’s cranky, security-busting Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), excited master of disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), unflappable techie Ms. Tarantula aka “Webs” (Awkwafina), hot-headed muscle Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and suave pickpocket/leader Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell) – the George Clooney of the group. (This parallels the film, which openly shows lampshades at one point.)

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As first-time feature director Pierre Perifel notes in a Pulp Fiction-inspired opening sequence, the reputation of the bad guys precedes them. When people cower in fear at the mere sight of the big bad wolf, bank robbery is a piece of cake. But have the crew members earned their “bad guy” nickname for their infamous heists? Or did they just enter a life of crime because the world already saw them as bad?

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(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 puts that question to the test during a robbery gone wrong, during which Mr. Wolf talks the crew out of jail time by suggesting that the villains have a chance at redemption under the tutelage of Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a self , earn -eminent philanthropist guinea pig. And though Wolf secretly assures his friends that this is all just part of a long scam, the “tingle of goodness” might be more addictive than he anticipates.

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There’s an emotional core behind the fast and light jokes in The Bad Guys, thanks in large part to Rockwell’s soulful vocal performance. He sells Mr. Wolf as both a dashing career criminal and a vulnerable fellow with hidden hopes and dreams. And that brings a dose of heart to the film, whether Wolf is joking with his old pal Snake, flirting with self-possessed Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), or gently rescuing a cat from a tree.

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(from left) Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) and Wolf (Sam Rockwell) in DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys directed by Pierre Perifel.

See The Bad Guys for: A New Look from DreamWorks

The other big calling card of The Bad Guys is its stylized look, championed by animator-director Perifel. Borrowing from recent off-the-beaten-track animated films like 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 pulls in elements of traditional hand-drawn animation to give his world a whole new sense of depth and perspective.

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For example, while the characters’ bodies are 3D, their eyes have a vintage 2D look reminiscent of Hanna-Barbera or Looney Tunes cartoons. The action sequences, on the other hand, are inspired by both Japanese anime kinetics and live-action crime capers. And although the entire film is animated, its mix of humanized animals and normal human characters evokes the mixed-media effect of Who Framed Roger Rabbit — all touches that give the film an appealing original aesthetic that captures his film’s more familiar beats supplemented villains become good story.

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(from left) Snake (Marc Maron) and Wolf (Sam Rockwell) in DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys directed by Pierre Perifel.

“The Bad Guys” falls a little too much in love with action movie tropes in the second half, sacrificing the depth of its emotional themes for more red, action-heavy events. (Of the Bad Guys crew, only Wolf and Snake feel like fully developed characters.) But if The Bad Guys doesn’t make it to the top tier of the animated season, it’s still a fun time in cinemas — and a strong one See calling card for Perifel as animation director.

Grade B

Rated PG. 100 minutes. R: Pierre Perifel. With: Sam Rockwell, Marc Marron, Craig RobinsonAnthony Ramos, Awkwafina, Richard AyoadeZazie Beetz, Lilly Singh, Alex Borstein. Stream on Peacock now.

About the author: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where she doesn’t mind the cold anyway. As a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years analyzing the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her column “When Romance Met Comedy” for The AV Club. She is also the co-host of the film podcast, role calland shares her opinions on pop culture on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

Tales of a Fifth Grade Robin Hood (2021): Jon Lovitz A little mustache (metaphorically speaking) in this back-to-school comedy about a boy (Chase Brown) in an underfunded urban high school and his battle with his good-for-nothing, embezzling vice principal (Lovitz). “Tales of a Fifth Grade Robin Hood” is a Tubi original. Rated TV PG. 84 minutes. Director: Dylan Vox. Also included Stephen Kramer GlickmanIliana Isabella Perez, Jayden Scala.

Where is The Bad Guys streamed?

The Bad Guys is now streaming on Peacock for subscribers with a Premium Membership ($6.99/month, $49.99/year). It can also be purchased through various VOD (Video On Demand) services.

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