MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Animated Crime Comedy/Voices of: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Anthony Ramos, Craig Robinson, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, Barbara Goodson, Zazie Beetz, Lilly Singh, Alex Borstein/Runtime: 100 minutes
I would just like to start this review by addressing a very particular ailment that time and time again has chosen to inflict not just numerous slices of cinema meant for younger movie goers, but also quite a few entries in adult cinema as well. That being the phenomenon which occurs when a slice of cinema’s antagonist is designed and subsequently acted out with such zeal and passion that the slice of cinema’s protagonist really does seem like a serious let down to say nothing of an outright bore when put up against them. It is because of its overwhelming familiarity with this distinct disparity that can occur that we see the new slice of cinema, and one I am reviewing today, 2022’s The Bad Guys is one that has been able to locate a fairly simplistic answer to this problem and then expands on it. An answer that consists of making relatable and worthy of audiences’ sympathies cinematic protagonists of not only just one reputedly diabolical “villain”, but rather a collection of them. Suffice it to say by bringing together a quintet of anthropomorphized critters who are usually viewed in cartoons as ruthless and/or diabolical villainy and then establishing them as a friendly and surprisingly relatable gang of criminals, this lively debut slice of cinema from a skilled animator by the name of Pierre Perifel is able to garner quite a bit of mileage out of that wonderful concept. At the same time though, as this slice of cinema takes its titular gang and redirects them to doing things that are “legal” or “right”, I was still finding it rather difficult to be persuaded that these characters would be able to have as much in the way of fun as they were having before they turned good. Suffice it to say that if you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s the fact that as positive and riveting as tis slice of cinema proves to be, it still proves to be as emotionally resonant as a crisp 100 dollar bill since villains can be fun to spend a movie with, but they aren’t as easy to relate to as you might be hoping. Yet despite not being the next animated masterpiece in the works that doesn’t mean this is a terrible slice of cinema. Not by a long shot. Rather, this is one cinematic animated outing that is immensely engaging both in front and behind the camera and is one that I am of the belief that families, provided they are tired of watching something like Sing 2 on a seemingly endless loop, should huff and puff (pun intended) to their local multiplex to check out at the very least once.
The plot is as follows: An adaptation of a book by Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys takes us to a version of our world where humans and animals co-exist with one another and introduces to the titular gang who are all renowned thieves. Indeed this is the kind of team who from team leader Wolf all the way to team disguise master Shark are the kind of critters who whenever they walk into any room have always made everyone else on the edge of their seat absolutely petrified in fear. Yet, despite not really being ok with how society perceives them, the group decides to put their skills to use for themselves and as a result have become a team of thieves who have developed a reputation. Not only for getting away with the goods with ease, but also in driving the city and the human chief of police (one Misty Luggins) absolutely stark raving mad with both frustration and fear as to where they will strike next. However when the governor, a fox by the name of Diane Foxington, calls them out on TV and accuses them of starting to be no more than “second rate”, we see the team decide to get a little bit of payback against this bruise to their collective and individual egos. Namely they start cobbling a scheme together to swipe the prize that the city gives out to its proverbial Good Samaritan so that way they can reclaim their honor and be seen as the best of the best once more. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that things take a turn during this scheme. A turn that results in our “heroes” being caught and turned over to a professor by the name of Rupert Marmalade who thinks he has what it takes to help our group turn a new leaf as it were. Yet even though the majority of the gang doesn’t really seem to possess any degree of desire whatsoever to reform out of a love of being both despised and feared, we see that the gang’s leader Wolf actually begins to slowly but surely enjoy being “good” albeit whilst having to keep it a secret from his criminal compatriots lest they suspect him of “going soft” or worse: betraying them. Thus can Wolf embrace his inner goodness and in the process get the rest of the team to as well, or is this one pack that is about to split up for good? That dear reader I will leave for you to discover for yourself…..
Now perhaps the most significant component that this slice of cinema has working in its favor would have to be how incredibly stylish this film has working for it thanks to the invaluable support of its helmer Pierre Perifel who also happens to be a former animator. Indeed much in a similar vein as some of the other quite distinct animated slices of cinema we have gotten as of late such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (a choice I did NOT make just because its highly-anticipated sequel recently got delayed….maybe), this slice of cinema is one that really does a wonderful job of pushing the boundaries of that distinct CG style that has really found itself becoming the go-to for children’s cinema in general. Thankfully, Perifel makes the choice to instead insert into this slice of cinema components of old-school hand-drawn animation in a wonderful bid to give the world of the movie a wonderfully novel degree of both depth and point of view. As a result, we see that even though the bodies of the various cast of characters are three-dimensional, their eyes feel very much like something you would see in a 2D cartoon like Huckleberry Hound or Courage the Cowardly Dog. As for the action beats in this slice of cinema they all operate as wonderful tributes to the immensely kinetic ones found in anime like Dragon Ball Z or Full Metal Alchemist in equal measure as such crime capers as Ocean’s 11 from 2001. Finally, it should also be pointed out that even though the entirety of this slice of cinema is animated, the fact that it blends together both anthropomorphized animals as well as human characters really did remind me of the wonderful job the slice of cinema known as Who Framed Roger Rabbit brought to the table. Suffice it to say that every single one of these distinct touches manages to combine together in such a manner that it results in this slice of cinema being provided with a wonderfully distinct aesthetic that helps to balance out the beats in the narrative that are nowhere near as novel. Indeed in that respect, this slice of cinema is one that does wind up becoming a wee bit too attached with the typical tropes found in the action genre in its back nine. As a result, we see the emotional thematic concepts the film has been working with are sadly traded in for plot beats that are way too predictable to say nothing of making only two of the titular crew feel like fully fleshed out individuals. Even with that negative working against this slice of cinema, it is still fairly delightful to see a slice of cinema choose to take what animation can do down some wonderfully novel paths rather than just go for the same ol’, same ol’ 110% of the time.
With that being said, it should be said that the second big component working to the immense advantage of this slice of cinema would have to be the immensely talented voice cast that has been assembled to bring this cast of characters vividly to life. Indeed make no mistake the voice cast that has been brought together all do an absolutely fantastic job in that respect. This starts with film lead Sam Rockwell who is absolutely phenomenal as the pathos-driven core of this distinct narrative and whose voice is vocally spot-on for the character of a life-long criminal who winds up uncovering that maybe being good is not as bad as he has been lead to believe his whole life only to be torn between going down this new road in life and sticking by the gang of friends who have been there for him his whole life whilst no one else was. As for the voice cast members playing the rest of the titular gang, I really enjoyed the efforts they brought to the table as well. Indeed Marc Maron is an absolute highlight as the eternally grumpy and raspy-voiced Snake and I felt that he and Rockwell have a wonderful back and forth with each other which, considering their characters are supposed to be best friends, makes perfect sense. Craig Robinson on the other hand is perfectly cast as master of disguise to say nothing of childish dramatics Shark who has several moments where I was literally on the verge of rolling on my seat laughing and both Awkwafina and Anthony Ramos also prove to be wonderful additions in their roles of Tarantula and Piranha respectively. Now in terms of other members of the cast who do a great job, we also see that Richard Ayoade is a welcome addition in his role of Professor Marmalade even if there might be a few bits to his character that are tragically telegraphed way in advance. The same also can be said for Zazie Beets who is absolutely phenomenal as Governor Foxington even if there is some dialogue and beats in her character arc that don’t flow as freely within the narrative as the majority. Minor quibbles aside however, there is no denying that this slice of cinema did a wonderful job of finding actors who could bring this terrific cast of characters so vividly to life as they ultimately wind up.
All in all I can’t lie to you dear reader: The Bad Guys really truly is an engaging animated slice of cinema. Indeed not only is the style of animation this slice of cinema operating with both incredible looking and novel, but film helmer Pierre Perifel manages to do a wonderful job of giving this slice of cinema with a distinct visual flair all its own. Yes there are moments scattered throughout where the tone of the film gets a tad bit uneven due to attempting to blend together a much more suave manner and adult tone with components that are an equal mix of over the top, basic, and artificial. Suffice it to say that yes The Bad Guys is a slice of cinema that can get to be quite silly at times, but at the same time it still proves to be engaging enough for both kids and older kids (or adults if you prefer) and is easily one of the more engaging and entertaining slices of cinema that DreamWorks Animation has seen fit to give audiences in quite a while. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Bad Guys “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.