The Bad Guys Synopsis: After a lifetime of legendary heists, notorious criminals Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina) are finally caught. To avoid a prison sentence, the animal outlaws must pull off their most challenging con yet — becoming model citizens. Under the tutelage of their mentor, Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), the dubious gang sets out to fool the world that they’re turning good.
Five criminal animals find themselves on a sudden pathway towards good in The Bad Guys. A stylized descent into the heist genre’s precise machinations marks a welcomed change of pace for Dreamworks Animation. The Shrek creator is synonymous with operating in the shadow of its Disney big brother, but the studio still charts its own path through glossy family films with a clever twist on familiar genre formula (Monsters vs. Aliens and How to Train Your Dragon).
While Dreamworks assumed the animation silver medal for decades, its recent track record reflects an empire reaching its artistic nadir. Low-energy and banal efforts like Spirit Untamed and Trolls: World Tour showcased a studio in the process of losing its once-dynamic fastball. Mixed with the rise of Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me) and Sony Pictures Animation (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Dreamworks has found itself lagging amidst the crowded animated field.
Thankfully, The Bad Guys infuses a surge of creative vitality into the studio and their homage-driven concept. The results conjure a whip-smart crime heist – a refreshingly sincere family-friendly interpretation that showcases Dreamworks’ best work in years.
Several family-friendly offerings attempt to recontextualize beloved genre pastiches, but most reflect their inspirations in a half-hearted effort. Similar to Dreamworks’ best projects, The Bad Guys embraces its genre forefathers with a genuine appreciation for their core tenants. Director Pierre Perifel and the film’s trio of writers (Aaron Blabey, Etan Cohen, and Yoni Brenner) steal a lot of mileage out of the sleek, fast-paced action of the criminal lifestyle. Like an infectious lovechild of the Ocean’s Trilogy, The Bad Guys dawns smooth swagger in its breezy approach – nailing the loose, infectious energy of an evolving heist yarn without playing down to its audience.
Perifel and his skilled team of animators deserve ample praise for reinvigorating Dreamworks’ played-out stylistic playbook. The decision to incorporate Spider-Verse’s innovative blend of 3D animation with 2D flourishes imbues newfound vibrancy in every frame. Each hot-pursuit car chase and grand theft of luxuries take on a brand new visceral energy – as the two styles harmoniously display eye-popping detail and ambitious craftsmanship (the film opens with an impressive 2-minute tracking shot). I am glad animation studios are wisely realizing the importance of evolving their craft rather than playing it safe.
The Bad Guys also presents a charmingly wicked ensemble to rally behind. Sam Rockwell and Marc Maron share an affectionately lived-in rapport as the team’s two longest-standing criminals. Craig Robinson remains an endearing comedic force as the team’s master of disguise, while Anthony Ramos and Awkwafina present their bubbly personas in full force. Unlike most star-studded animated efforts, the ensemble here shares a dynamic rapport as outcasts acting against society’s innate mistrust of them.
The Bad Guys delights even as the film steers into familiar, family-friendly territory. Viewers can expect the typical allotment of third-act plot twists and feel-good messages, but the creative team approaches the framework with enough thought and goodwill. I especially appreciate how the film’s “don’t judge a book by its cover” message cleverly touches upon the importance of doing the right thing rather than appearing virtuous to others.
The Bad Guys represents 2022’s biggest surprise to date. I am glad to see Dreamworks tap back into the strengths of their apex efforts, with this film hopefully marking the first chapter of an exciting new franchise.
The Bad Guys is now playing in theaters.
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