‘The Bad Guys’ review: Villain animals go straight in slick animated crime caper

  • Based on the children’s book series of the same name by Australian author Aaron Blabey, ‘The Bad Guys’ follows a group of five friends who try to give up the criminal lifestyle
  • The animated comedy stars Sam Rockwell as gang leader Mr Wolf and Awkwafina as professional hacker Ms Tarantula
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Sam Rockwell’s smooth-talking Mr Wolf teams up with Marc Maron’s grumpy Mr Snake in ‘The Bad Guys’. Photo: DreamWorks Animation/TNS

Sometimes it’s good to be bad.

As long as, at the end of the day, you’re being pretty good.

That, more or less, is the message of The Bad Guys, a very slick and pretty fun offering from DreamWorks animation based on Aaron Blabey’s popular book series of the same name.

The Bad Guys are a crew of anthropomorphic animals, each of whom brings his or her own skill set to the enterprise of stealing this, that and the other in their city.

We first are introduced to their leader, handsome pickpocket Mr Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), enjoying a meal at a coffee shop with his pal and colleague Mr Snake (Marc Maron), who isn’t at all interested in celebrating his birthday – for reasons that will become apparent deeper into the film.

The buddies finish up their lunch and proceed to rob a nearby bank with the rest of their gang: easy-going master of disguise Mr Shark (Craig Robinson), short-fused tough guy Mr Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and expert hacker Ms Tarantula (Awkwafina).

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“Go bad …” Mr Fox says as he drives them away from the scene of the crime in his souped-up car. “… or go home,” Mr Snake says, completing the accompanying offer of a fist bump from Mr Fox.

Back at their super-secret, loot-filled hideout, Mr Wolf is eager to watch a news report covering their latest heist. However, he quickly becomes upset by a new city official, Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), saying she feels sorry for The Bad Guys, referring to them as “second-rate has-beens”.

Mr Fox crafts a plan for a high-profile heist at a big public event attended by Foxington and other important types. There and disguised as the sophisticated (and excellently named) Oliver Poodleton – he chats her up, and we see these furry mammals have a little chemistry.

Anthony Ramos and Lilly Singh (right) voice Mr Piranha, red-bellied piranha and Tiffany Fluffit, a local news reporter. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images/AFP

Also in attendance is Chief of Police (Alex Borstein), who’s long been obsessed with seeing The Bad Guys pay for their crimes. When their plan goes awry, she is close to getting her wish, but, instead of being sent to prison, The Bad Guys strike a deal. Instead, they will work with the night’s honoree, kind-hearted guinea pig Pressor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), who will teach them how to be (gasp!) good guys.

Will they be able to make the big change? Do they really even want to? And might a REAL villain emerge before the adventure is all said and done? (Well, obviously, the answer to the final question is yes, but we’ll say no more.)

Pierre Perifel, an animator on the Kung Fu Panda films, makes his feature-directing debut with The Bad Guys, working from a screenplay by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa). At more than a kid-friendly 90 minutes, their adventure could have been a little tighter, but there is a lot of amusement here for the little ones – regardless of whether they know the books.

Plus, there are lessons to be found, especially when it comes to the testing of the bond between Mr Fox and Mr Snake.

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Thankfully, The Bad Guys also traffics in some gags only adults will get, including a silly-clever throwaway joke involving Ms Tarantula’s computer work.

Also, The Bad Guys gets kudos for its voice casting. Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is cool and smooth as Mr Fox, while podcast host and comic Maron crushes it as the curmudgeonly and abrasive Mr Snake. And then there’s Maron’s Joker castmate Beetz (Atlanta), who helps Foxington come across as appropriately confident and capable.

According to the movie’s production notes, The Bad Guys isn’t a straight adaptation of the first graphic novel but instead folds in elements from the first four of Aussie Blabey’s bestselling 22-book series.

While this falls short of an animated classic, we certainly wouldn’t mind Hollywood looting Blabey’s treasure chest to craft another adventure of these rather good Bad Guys.

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