It’s hard to picture a family-friendly animated film with Quintin Taranto-inspired dialogue while also having its titular characters pull off a stylish heist reminiscent of the Ocean Trilogy. But that is part of what makes director Pierre Perife’s “The Bad Guys” so deceptively cool and sleek. Taking everything, we know about those carefree capers and entertainingly mundane conversations, “The Bad Guys” is a fun, fast-paced, and witty piece of entertainment with an illustrative visual pop that sets it apart from its animation studio rivals.
Most of us are familiar with the premise of bad guys trying to clean up their acts while still embracing their inner evil. It makes for a good redemption story, especially when its main characters have a history of being bad. The Big Bad Wolf (Sam Rockwell) has made a living off of his pickpocketing and thieving with fellow bad guys like the sarcastic safe-cracking Snake (Marc Maron), the tech and hacking wiz Ms. Tarantula (Awkafina), the master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and the muscle/getaway driver Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos). Together, the group is known for their brazen and sophisticated – well as sophisticated as you can get in a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist – crimes.
Though the Bag Guys eluded cops and stole a fortune, the gang is publicly insulted by Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz). So, they take it upon themselves to steal the Golden Dolphin from guinea pig philanthropist Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (Richard Ayoade). However, during the childishly overly complicated heist, Mr. Wolf inadvertently helps an elderly woman he intended to pickpocket. And by doing this good deed and listening to Marmalade’s speech about goodness, Wolf finds himself on the path toward reformation. And after the gang is arrested, Wolf cons everyone in thinking that they can change while also attempting to steal the award again.
While the path to reformation isn’t easy – as we see by The Bad Guys trying to rescue a cat stuck in a tree or guinea pigs from a testing facility – Wolf begins to change. Though some may consider Mr. Wofl’s about-face better for society, Mr. Snake sees it as terrible for his crew because he believes that animals like them are incapable of change and that there’s nothing worse than a friend turning his back on his crew.
The story of the antihero and villain rising above their base instincts is not entirely original, as we’ve seen it multiple times in these animated films. But what separates “The Bad Guys” from its predecessors is how it takes some of those sly and cool one-liners and embraces its illustrative source material. As a result, the film moves at a snappy pace during its narration and conversational scenes while upping the excitement during the explosive police pursuits and keeping us on the edge of our seats during the heist sequences.
Honestly, if it weren’t for that kind of clever writing and homages to the other cinematic inspirations, “The Bad Guys” would have been another one of those by-the-numbers films. But here, we get to see Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake converse in a diner about birthdays. The contents are nothing special, but it has echoes of Tarantino written all over it. And the way the camera stays focused on them without having to make any unnecessary cuts keeps us hooked on every single word they say. And before you know it, we are in the midst of a one-shot sequence as the two pull off a heist at a neighboring bank. Of course, all of that is followed by the traditional characters doing their jobs, reconvening, and then outrunning the police. But since the film set the bar so high from the start, the stuff in between the planning, heist pulling, and police chasing acts more like filler than anything else.
Still, “The Bad Guys” runs on all cylinders, thanks to the voice cast doing a fantastic job losing themselves into their characters. Rockwell’s laid-back charm goes well with a character like Mr. Wolf, who always is conning or planning to con someone, and yet, he wants to be better than what people precede him to be. So it’s no wonder why people like the “bad guy.” Meanwhile, Maron voices the salty and cranky Mr. Snake, who lives by a strict code and can’t deny his base animal instincts or reputation for being a snake. Ramos does a terrific job as Mr. Piranha, the youngest and toughest group member. It was quite fun to see him take on the challenges of being good while being goaded by his fellow bad guys. There’s an incredibly cool moment where the film uses Ramos’ vocal talents for a jazzy musical number that doubles as a distraction for a heist. Awkwafina and Robinson also provide some laughs using some tech and master of disguise humor, respectively. Even Beetz and Ayoade get in a few good moments that help make “The Bad Guys” move smoother.
Visually, “The Bad Guys” takes its illustrative hand-drawn cues from its source material and combines that with computer animation. The way the characters interact with each other has this Looney Tunes playfulness to it, especially during one of the most extensive chase sequences that take the Bad Guys through the streets and freeways of Los Angeles. It’s a ton of fun to watch, even more so when Mr. Wolf breaks the fourth wall and asks you to get a little closer to hear what he has to say.
If there was ever an animated film that would be a gateway to the Ocean trilogy or earlier Tarantino films, “The Bad Guys” would be it. The story may not be original, but Perife’s approach to it is wonderfully refreshing as it brings the heist genre to an animated world full of Looney Tunes visual gags and colors that pop. One thing’s for sure, “The Bad Guys” is one wickedly cool ride that’s worth going on again and again.