Selling itself as “Tarantino for kids” may give parents valid reason to pause on The Bad Guys, but it’s an ultimately safe and reliable child-friendly affair that more circles the neighbourhood of the adult-aimed heist film rather than being an all out animated edition of Pulp Fiction; though its opening sequence certainly brings that effort to mind with a diner setting and a duo of crims talking shop.
Those crims are Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) and Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), a, well, wolf and snake who have pulled off yet another successful bank robbery. Wolf, suave and slick in a white suit he wears unironically, and Snake, a slithering, Hawaiian shirt-wearing Eastern brown snake, are the numbers 1 and 2 of the titular crew, a collective of similarly deadly animals who, despite being criminals, aren’t nearly as terrifying as they’d like to think.
Sure, there’s the feisty Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and the hacking expert Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), but their skills are what keeps them at a distance with the law, not their physical attributes, something that comes into play when their latest ploy goes horribly wrong (don’t they all?). Believing that even the most villainous of creatures can truly be converted to beacons of goodness, a philanthropic guinea pig, Prof. Rupert Marmalade IV (Richard Ayoade, perfection voice casting if ever there was one), hopes to test this theory by letting the Bad Guys out of their prison sentence and into his compound.
If it all seems a little suspicious, that’s because it is. Marmalade is the type of pompous genius who you can’t help but be weary of, and Wolf’s ease at accepting this change plays into his own plan of appearing nice to get away with something even more sinister. Classic bait-and-switch. But the city’s governor, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), isn’t buying it and, perhaps even worse for such a self-proclaimed super villain, Wolf is starting to learn the emotional benefits of performing a good deed – the wag in his tail setting him off – to the point that maybe he doesn’t want to be so bad after all.
Penned by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) and based off Australian author Aaron Blabey‘s series of novels, The Bad Guys may occasionally feel too obvious in its double and triple-crossing plot points for the adults on hand, but kids are likely to be suitably enthralled by the standard action genre practices older viewers are so accustomed to. Obvious its narrative may be at times, it doesn’t take away from the film’s genuine humour, something that is evenly balanced between kid-friendly fare and older-skewered jokes that earn their appreciation; and, really, it doesn’t matter what age you are, a Craig Robinson-voiced shark dressed in a red gown pretending to have a baby will never not be highly amusing.
A striking film to look at from a visual standpoint – the animated blend of 2D and photorealism is incredibly exciting to watch – The Bad Guys furthers DreamWorks’ penchant for twisting a classic genre staple for its own benefit. Similar to how Shrek elevated the fairy tale and Kung Fu Panda the kung fu subsect, Pierre Perifel‘s crime caper has a lot of fun playing into the stereotypes we expect from such a genre, pilfering them just so, and layering it with a universal brand of comedy that hopefully allows these Bad Guys to continue on.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Bad Guys is screening in Australian theatres from March 31st, 2022.