GO BAD OR GO HOME!
DreamWorks Animation Studios has had their ups and downs in their releases, finding their cartoon endeavors of a mixed variety from the highest highs to the mediocre lows. The studio has produced some of the finest (and most memorable) animated films such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and, How to Train Your Dragon; finding each one to have their own unique personal visual aesthetics between cinematic storytelling and lovable characters. Even some of their own “stand alone” endeavors such as Shark’s Tale, Over the Hedge, and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie have had celebration of garnishing praise from critics, moviegoers, and box office results. However, DreamWorks has had its fair share of unfavorable releases, with some of the most forgetful features such as Home, Bee Movie, and Turbo. Perhaps the instability of their releases rest upon the decision of this comes down to its overall studio distribution, with DreamWorks Animation being handled by several studios, including DreamWorks Pictures (from inception to 2005), then Paramount Pictures from 2006-2012, then 20th Century Fox from 2013-2017, and now (currently) under Universal Pictures. Regardless, it looks like DreamWorks is struggling to find a proper footing with its “hit or miss” releases. Now, after 2021 release of The Boss Baby: Family Business, DreamWorks Animation Studios and director Pierre Perifel prepare to release the latest animated feature film with the movie Bad Guys; loosely based off the books of the same name by author Aaron Blabey. Does this cartoon motion picture rides high or is it time for the animated studio to call it quits?
Living the good life by being bad, the Bad Guys are a gang of criminals who enjoying their reputations and relish the crime spree around the big city. The team, who includes Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), and, while they deal with their differences of opinions and personalities, they’re united in their special skills in thievery. Learning that the coveted Gold Dolphin award is about to be presented to famed Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), the Bad Guys make a play to take the valuable prize during the ceremony, hoping to humiliate Police Chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein) and the newly appointed Governor Foxington (Zazie Beetz) in the process. When the heist goes sour, Marmalade proposes something unique rehabilitation for the gang, offering the thieving ragtag team lessons on how to be good, hoping to reach their hearts and prove that fundamental change is possible…no matter the person. While Wolf is initially dismissive of the situation and playing along with Marmalade gimmick, he learns that the positive ways actually work, putting him at odds with his fellow team, who show less interest in this particular training. So, the question remains…. can a bad guy become good?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Much like what I said in my opening paragraph, I believe that DreamWorks Animation has been going through a series of ups and downs. When it was first beginning, I believe it to be an animated powerhouse, with the company rivaling Pixar and other Disney movies, especially after the “House of Mouse’s” second renaissance era of the 90s. Movie releases like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Shark’s Tale, and How to Train Your Dragon I would deem to be some of the top-tier releases that the studio had to offer from the late 90s to the late 2000s era, with some branching out to deliver solid sequels (i.e. Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda 2 and How to Train Your Dragon 2). Heck, even some of its non-3D animated cartoon features (more traditional style 2D animation) like The Road to El Dorado and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas proved to be quite effective endeavors that barred fruit and popularity amongst its viewers. That being said, DreamWorks did start to show signs of decline sometime after early 2010s, with several releases that I found either poorly done and / or mediocre endeavors. Films like Bee Movie, Home, and Turbo (the ones I mention above) are just terrible in my opinion and are just pretty “meh”. As stated, it was probably due to the studio’s distribution handling several times over that caused this influx of popular movies releases. And don’t get me started on all the various spin-off TV shows that were done with such “blech” animation. Yet, despite those ups and downs, DreamWorks still has managed (as of late) delivered some good animated features in the late 2010s / early 2020s era, with releases like How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Abominable, and Croods: A New Age. To that end, I say that DreamWorks Animation Studios has had a bumpy road through the past two decades, but has endured and produced a good decent number of animated features and doesn’t show to be stopping any time soon.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about The Bad Guys, a 2022 animated film and the latest offering from DreamWorks Animation Studios. To be honest, I really didn’t give this film any particular hype or anything like that. I think I do remember hearing that a movie was going to be made out of popular children’s series, for I used to work in a bookstore and do remember seeing the title of these books from author Aaron Blabey (though I never picked them up and read them). That was pretty much it. I think I briefly saw the film’s movie trailer and it looked pretty straightforward, with the feature’s main cast of characters (who are bad guys) trying a hand at being good. This particular scenario has been played out many times over, especially in children’s entertainment, so I really didn’t give much credence, or any look over as much as should. Basically, I thought that the movie was going to be a generic “run-of-the-mill” endeavor….and nothing less. So, that’s probably why I didn’t post the film’s movie trailer up on my blog. Thus, I remember when The Bad Guys got released in theaters on April 22nd, 2022, but I held back from seeing it right away, especially because my work schedule got a little bit as well as my backlog catalogue of doing delayed movie reviews, which (of course) this particular falls into. However, after word of mouth about this movie and seeing a lot of positive reviews about it, I decided to check out The Bad Guys several weeks after its initial release. Unfortunately, with my workload taking a bit more elongated and heavy, my review for The Bad Guys got delayed and I kept on pushing it back for some time. Now, with finally a moment to catch my breath and play “catch up”, I have the time to share my personal thoughts and opinions on this animated film. And what did I think of it? Well, I was surprised how much I liked this movie. Despite a few formulaic and predictable nuances, The Bad Guys is slick and hilarious animated endeavor that plays to the strengths of its voice cast as well as being a entertaining cartoon heist escapades that’s well worth it. It may not beat out DreamWorks upper echelon of popular / memorable releases, but it certainly comes close to doing so…..and that’s a good thing!
The Bad Guys is directed by Pierre Perifel, who makes his theatrical feature length directorial debut with the film. Given his background as an animator for several DreamWorks projects such as Monsters vs. Aliens, Rise of the Guardians, and Shrek Forever After, Perifel seems like a suitable choice to helm the studio’s latest film project, especially since he has an understanding of how a DreamWorks movie is to be put together and executed. In this regard, I definitely believe that Perifel did a fantastic job in establishing (and almost leaving his mark) on the studio’s theatrical cartoon releases in The Bad Guys. How so? Well, while I can’t speak for Blabey’s work, I feel that Perifel has a great understanding of the basic premise and definitely runs with it…in the right direction. The movie (as a whole) feels like a callback to classic Hollywood iteration of heist movies…. almost like a “rolodex” of some of the heist films like Ocean’s Eleven, which heavily utilizes a select group of people with various traits and talents to pull off heist jobs and make a shift family / team in doing so. This, of course, is the primary setup for when The Bad Guys begins, with the initial first act introducing us (the viewers) to this viewpoint from Mr. Wolf as he has other “bad guy” associates pull off a caper that would set them up for life.
THE BAD GUYS
Perifel also plays into this notion by introducing some of the themes that are surrounded by the coin phrase “never judge a book by its cover”. This, of course, plays into the feature’s narrative quite a lot, but it’s done with a more tactful approach, thanks to the script handling by Etan Cohen as well as Yoni Brenner and Hillary Winston. Naturally, the themes of exploring stereotypes and perception are well-founded in the narrative structure of the movie, which definitely made me think of the main theme of Disney’s Zootopia, but rather than making a “carbon copy”, the script for The Bad Guys takes that prose of thematic messaging and makes it’s own and never pulls an “overkill” button when trying to get the point across. The script shapers as well as Perifel’s direction for the film keeps The Bad Guys from falling prey to heavy-handedness of drama and strikes a proper medium of cartoon fun and excitement with moments of reflections and understanding.
Looking beyond those points of narrative writing and thematic messages, Perifel makes The Bad Guys have an all-around great cartoon experience that has all the required and necessary moments to make it accessible for all ages. Even better, the film’s targeted age range will be able to understand (and digest) some of the more meaningful moments by getting its point across in a very straightforward and simplistic way. That’s not to say that The Bad Guys is too “kid-ish” for older viewers to enjoy as Perifel sets the tone for the film right the opening minute of the feature by letting its talented voice cast (more on that below) play to their strengths as well as having a plenty of action sequences and comedy. Oh, yes…the comedy is another big plus for the film, which utilizes a lot of verbal jokes as well as physical comedy gags that are actually pretty good and hit more of their intended levity target rather than missing it. Perifel keeps the feature light on its toes by offering a very breezy animated film that has a greater understanding of balances of action and comedy more so than other cartoon flicks nowadays. There are a few bumps here and there that I notice, but as a first attempt in doing a project like this…. I believe that Perifel gives more right than he does get wrong. Overall, I’m quite impressed with what Perifel was able to accomplish with his first full-length animated film, making The Bad Guys have such energetic and wonderfully tactful narrative that boasts plenty of laugh-out loud moments and a terrific animated endeavor for lighthearted entertainment.
In the presentation category, The Bad Guys looks quite amazing and definitely has a unique swagger that makes it stand out from its other animated feature film competition. Rather using the standard / straight approach style of computer generated rendering for this animated project, Perifel and his team make the film have a visual aesthetic and character design with an interesting twist of soft, art-like styles without being entirely two-dimensional…. something that (in my opinion) kind of reminded me of Netflix’s animated movie Klaus. Additionally, the art style that the animated endeavor produce takes a few cues and nuances from Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with a large emphasis on the comic book-like visual flair through its rendering and movements of characters / objects. Like Into Spider-Verse, it can be a bit jarring and getting use to it, but it definitely is a huge positive in my opinion, with the animation style of its presentation feeling refreshingly creative and has a keen sense of colorful palette that speaks for itself. Thus, the feature’s “behind the scenes” team, including Devan Key and Floriane Marchix (art direction), Luc Desmarchelier (production designs), Courtney Hoffman (costume designs), and all the movie’s CGI visual artists, should be commended for their efforts in making The Bad Guys have a wonderful and fantastic animation presentation that can (quite literally) trump any animated feature film that has been produced of late…. for its sheer brilliance of style and design. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Daniel Pemberton, is a great musical composition that has all the usual fanfare one would expect from animated children’s film, but also has the classic usage of the somewhat jazz-infused heist flick, which compliments the thieving heist format that the movie has to offer. All in all, it’s a great piece from Pemberton.
There are a few parts of The Bad Guys that I felt that could’ve been ironed out a little bit better, which caused the feature to have its fair share of criticisms. Perhaps the most apparent one that’s the easiest one to spot is in the overall predictable nature of the movie’s story and how everything plays out throughout the course of its runtime. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy watching the movie and I loved it for what it is…. a kid’s movie. That being said, I felt that the story for the film was way too simplistic. Yes, as I mentioned above, the movie is quite easy to digest and can be accessible to the younger juice box in way that they can follow along, with everything drawn out in a crystal clear way. This, of course, means that most (if not all) of the film has a real predictable nature from start to finish, with a formulaic plot that plays out like one would expect. The morals are translucent, and the roles are clear to what needs to happen and what will happen, despite the movie trying to lather its narrative in a few moments of surprises and twists. Thus, The Bad Guys is pretty formulaic to the touch and could’ve utilized a few more creative and innovate ways to bolster its narrative shortcomings.
In hindsight, I also believe that the movie could’ve utilized a bit more finesse within the heist / crime attempts. Of course, the film heavily emphasizes the various character traits and usage of the actual “bad guys” characters to make their job cohesive and part of the team aspect of pulling off a job together. That being said, the effect is only use in a few sparse areas and I, for one, would’ve liked to see more of this…. pulling off more elaborate heist that what was showing. Even the film’s ending, which pulls all the stops and punches in its showcases, runs the gambit of being a bit too long and tedious for its own good and could’ve benefited with a bit more restructuring of the feature’s themes and characters. In addition (and I’ll mention more on this below), I felt that the movie could’ve done a better job in fully fleshing out some of the main characters of the feature a bit more, especially some of the other “bad guys” characters. It’s not a complete deal-breaker as I felt like this was going to be a problem with the movie from first five minutes, but it would seem that a lot of emphasis is placed on Mr. Wolf and not so much on his other companions, which are there throughout the movie, but it becomes crystal clear where the script is going and who it favors the most.
What definitely helps overlook these points of criticism is the voice talents that The Bad Guys, which are top-notch and full of charismatic energy to bring these animated characters to life. Leading the charge in the film’s endeavor is actor Sam Rockwell, who plays the main protagonist of the movie of Mr. Wolf. Rockwell, who is known for his roles in Iron Man 2, Moon, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has always been a gifted actor, spanning a good career that’s a mixture of mainstream releases, indie projects, and award-winning. While not a complete stranger to doing voiceover, Rockwell involvement in the movie is spot-on and makes for a great and believable performance in playing Wolf, with the actor’s laidback and easy-going attitude / bravado seeping into the character, who’s supposed to be sly and easy-going. As mentioned, the story arc for his character is quite well-represented in the movie (easy to follow and to digest), with Rockwell up to chance to give the classic “big, bad wolf” a run for his money and makes the character have a compelling arc. Thus, it goes without saying that Rockwell is almost the perfect match for voicing the character of Mr. Wolf in the film and makes for standout performance in the animated endeavor.
Likewise, actress Zazie Beetz is terrific as the character of Diane Foxington, the newly appointed governor of the city. Known for her roles in Deadpool 2, The Joker, and Atlanta, Beetz, while not entirely a mainstream talent, has certainly made a name for herself over the past few years; slowly amassing a career catalogue that hones-in on her craft. Thus, her involvement in The Bad Guys is indeed a welcomed one, with Beetz having a lot of playful lines throughout the movie, which are great and makes Foxington an likeable character right from the get-go. Plus, Beetz is a fantastic foil for Rockwell’s easy-going voice, which makes the interactions between Diane and Wolf all the more worthwhile. To be quite honest, I was actually surprised by Beetz’s voice as Governor Foxington, which sounded a bit like actress Maya Rudolph, who I believe the voiced the character when I watch the film. That being said, Beetz certainly is great in the role, and I welcomed sight she brings with her character of Diane into the mix of the whole “bad guys” gang.
The other Bad Guys characters, including actor Marc Maron (Maron and GLOW) as the cynical Mr. Snake, actress Awkwafina (The Farewell and Raya and the Last Dragon) as the sharp-tongue Ms. Tarantula, actor Craig Robinson (This is the End and Pineapple Express) as the childish Mr. Shark, and actor Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born and In the Heights) as the short-fused Mr. Piranha, play more the secondary main characters in the movie, yet still shine through with their exuberant / larger-than-life voices. Each one is given their own unique heist skill set and distinct personalities that perfectly match the voice performer behind them, which are equally fun and amusing to watch whenever they are on-screen. That being said, what kind of lessened that impact is that the characters, especially during the middle portion of the film, gets pushed aside as Wolf’s personal narrative story arc takes center stage. As I mentioned above, it wasn’t too much of a problem for me, but I would’ve liked to see more of these characters have their own personal little story arcs a bit more or (at the very least) have a bit more characteristic development rather than the one personality trait. Still, for better or worse, these particular characters in the film are hilarious and their voice talents are solid across the board.
Additionally, actor Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd and The Watch) is terrific as the voice for the pompous and good-natured Professor Rupert Marmalade IV, while the voice talents of actress Alex Borstein (Family Guy and The Marvelous Ms. Maisel) as the hot-headed chief of police Misty Luggins and actress Lilly Singh (Ice Age: Collision Course and The Tube’s Hautest) provided more minor supporting characters in the film, which are great in their limited, yet colorful screen time.
It’s good to be bad….is the sentiment feeling tagged in a movie where the commonplace bad guys get themselves mixed up in a situation where they must learn to be good guys to save their skins in the film appropriately titled The Bad Guys. Director Pierre Perifel’s first directorial feature-length debut film is surefire homerun win from DreamWorks Animation Studios; producing a wonderfully enjoyable animated heist capper flick that has wit, zip, and slick styles and swaggers throughout its runtime. While the movie has a few snags of predictable and formulaic natures within its narrative builds (as well as a few characters moments), the film raise to challenge and overcomes those points and presenting a creative cartoon feature thanks to Perifel’s direction, it’s play on the heist genre, the comedy, the animation style, the score, and the entire voice cast. Personally, I liked this movie. It was definitely something that I wasn’t expecting (as I mentioned that I had low expectations for this film) and I had a great time watching. It was fun twist on the classic “bad guy” stereotype and, although some elements were a bit predictable, the animation style was unique and the voice talents involved were solid across the board. All in all, an entertaining and hilarious animated endeavor from DreamWorks. Thus, my recommendation for this film is a very favorable “highly recommended” as the movie can be enjoyed all everyone of all ages and perfect choice for a family friendly movie night. Given the film’s ending is left open-ended, the general positive reviews that the movie has received, and how that Blabey has written an entire novel series surrounding these particular characters, it would seem like a Bad Guys 2 might be on the horizon in the near future and I, for one, would love to see sequel to this movie. Even if one doesn’t materialize, DreamWorks’s The Bad Guys is a cheeky, fun, and widely entertaining animated film that delivers on its premise and rises above the standard fanfare of animated endeavors by producing something uniquely creative and amusing within a heist format as well as its “never judge a book by its cover” theme.