The Bad Guys: When the Bad Go Good

John FarrellBy John Farrell6 Minutes

When I first learned I had the opportunity to watch and review The Bad Guys, my excitement was indifferent. I had heard very little (or perhaps nothing) about the animated film, nor did I know anything about its source material.

I didn’t realize I only need look across the dinner table to my 10-year-old son, who happened to be a huge fan of Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys book series. As it turns out, my son is the target audience for the books, as well as the movie. So, I brought him with me to the theater, but not before he loaned me three books to familiarize myself with the characters.

Regardless of whether the movie is aimed at pre-teen children or not, there was a lot to enjoy for this middle-aged man. The Bad Guys – Pierre Perifel’s feature film directorial debut – mixes non-stop action found in all the best heist films with the heart of anthropomorphic hits like Zootopia. It’s packed with laugh-out-loud humor, entertaining car chases, inventive schemes, plot twists galore, and a charming, animated style that gives the surefire hit high marks. But where it stands out is in the character development department.

Characters with Pizzazz

Although all the characters have their own unique personalities making them both interesting and likeable, my son and I agreed that our two favorite characters were the master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) and the unpredictable and chaotic Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos). However, the debonair Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), the ravenous Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), the computer-hacking Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), the composed Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), and the benevolent Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) all make great cases for becoming fan favorites.

All five of the film’s main villains (i.e., wolf, snake, tarantula, shark, and piranha – who represent five of the most stereotypical villains found in most stories, like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood,” the shark in Jaws, and the snake in the Garden of Eden) are all so good at being bad. Mr. Wolf even remarks, “We may be bad, but we’re so good at it!”

Later in the movie, he adds, “We were never given a chance to be anything more than criminals. But these are the cards we’ve been dealt, so we might as well play them.”

They’ve pulled off numerous heists, including Mr. Shark stealing the Mona Lisa while dressed as the Mona Lisa, and have the collection to prove it. But it’s their latest heist that could change their lives forever.

Going Good?

The notorious gang is finally nabbed while trying to snatch the Golden Dolphin Award, given to the city’s “goodest citizen.” The irony isn’t lost on me that these not-so-good citizens have their eyes set on an award celebrating good citizenship.

When they are finally apprehended at the ceremony, Mayor Foxington, who of course is a fox, is intent on sending the five to jail for a very long time. But, to their surprise, Professor Marmalade – a guinea pig and Golden Dolphin Award recipient – steps in with an alternative to time behind bars.

Marmalade persuades Foxington to overlook the gang’s likely prison sentence and instead release them to his care. Freed of serving time, Mr. Wolf and his cohorts promise to be good and follow Marmalade’s example on how to be upstanding citizens. However, they never intend to live up to their promise as they conspire to go after an even bigger target – a heart-shaped (or according to Mr. Piranha, “butt-shaped”) meteor. They only plan to fool the world into believing they’ve been transformed.

There’s just one problem. They may not all be on board with the plan. Eventually, Mr. Wolf starts contemplating turning over a new leaf and really going “good” in hopes of finally being accepted. However, that may be harder than he imagined when a new villain threatens the city.

After a life of living on the lam, does Mr. Wolf finally find redemption and, if so, is he able to convince his friends that being on the right side of the law is better than living as criminals? Are they able to shed the stereotypes of always being depicted as the “bad guys?” Will they ever become the “good guys?”

Regardless of the answers, Dreamworks has reclaimed its place atop the animated kingdom with The Bad Guys. The film should be on every family’s “Do Not Miss” list.