Four-quadrant animated films usually deliver feel-good stories with worlds dominated by animals. Well, DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys is in a league next door BoJack Horsemanat least its amazing world mixes with both sentient and unconscious animals living among humans, though they terrorize them in appropriate “bad guy” ways.
Sam Rockwell leads an all-star cast of mammals and creatures that are often perceived as ugly or unpleasant, rightly so in this case, as they are a gang of multi-talented criminals. Rockwell votes Mr. Wolf (known by some as “The Big Bad Wolf”) along with comedians Marc Maron, Awkwafina and Craig Robinson, who portray Mr. Snake, Ms. Tarantula and Mr. Shark. Zazie Beetz, Anthony Ramos and Richard Ayoade also star among the group of animals that round out this high-stakes moral hijacker of a movie.
Aside from DreamWorks Animation’s refreshing take on various anthropoids, the animation style beats the average look we’ve seen in popular CGI movies over the past decade. Think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse meets the 1950s era Looney Tunes. The expressions we see from each character are reminiscent of a cartoon or manga, rather than a googly-eyed Pixar or Disney animation. No shadow intended, either literally or otherwise.
The film’s real premise, however, goes into live-action territory with action-packed sequences, all leading up to an exciting, climax robbery. The whole Mr. Wolf’s persona is cross-border Danny Ocean, so much so that he is even referred to as “full Clooney” at some point. It’s also a little funny that Awkafina’s Ms. Tarantula is the group’s hacker after playing a professional pickpocket in Ocean’s Eight. Jokes for kids and adults, supposedly.
As a family film, of course, there is a lesson to be learned for the children among the audience. The Bad Guys treats thoroughly ins and outs by judging books based on their covers, as well as whether stereotypes can ever be seen as true, so as not to take too direct notes from Zootopia. Sir. Wolf even mentions briefly, during a deliberately poignant speech, that sometimes bad people are bad, simply because they were never given an opportunity to behave in any other way. Adults watching can agree on the clear juxtaposition of the animals and their actions throughout the film: a big bad wolf, a sneaky snake, a predatory piranha, and so on.
Perhaps most importantly, the film is actually funny. And witty. And interesting enough for all ages. Its rapid visual appeal also ensures that almost anyone who sees can feel good about being bad, from start to finish.
The Bad Guys opens in theaters Friday, April 22nd. Watch the trailer here.