Updated: Apr 24, 2022
DreamWorks as an animation studio has always been very hit-and-miss with their movies. On the one side, you get their beloved classics like the Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon movies and their underrated 2-D classics like Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, The Road to El Dorado and The Prince of Egypt. On the other side, you have their blander movies like Abominable, Monsters vs. Aliens, Home and the Trolls movies and their...less than stellar works such as Shark Tale and The Boss Baby movies. I myself am one of those people that either really likes their movies (namely the Kung Fu Panda movies, the first two Shrek movies, The Prince of Egypt, Spirit and the How To Train Your Dragon movies) and often admires the work that they put into some of their movies. But I'm also the kind of guy where not all DreamWorks movies are to my taste. I'm not as big on DreamWorks as I am with Disney and Pixar, but I have a soft-spot for the studio regardless.
And now here we are with a new movie from the animation superstar studio again. The Bad Guys is like a lot of DreamWorks's other prominent franchises in the sense it's based on a series of books (much like Shrek and the Dragon films) by Australian author Aaron Blabey. The series began in 2015 and is still running to this day with a total of 15 books in the series published as I'm writing this post. I'm guessing someone at DreamWorks was a big fan of the books because here we are now seeing a movie based on the series.
So is this another DreamWorks hit, or will this be another DreamWorks miss? Let's gear up for the heist of the century as we dive into The Bad Guys...
Section 1: The Story
I'm gonna make this clear right from the bat: I have NOT read ANY of the books. This review is purely from the perspective of a newcomer to the series and is based solely on my thoughts of the movie as a movie and not an adaptation.
The Bad Guys is a heist movie in which a team of anthropomorphic animals consisting of Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Shark and Mr. Piranha live the life of criminals and embracing their stereotypical depictions of being evil or scary creatures. However, in order to escape jail time, Mr. Wolf has an idea in which he and the gang will pretend to be good in order to pull off a successful steal and get away from the law. But as time goes on, Mr. Wolf may have second thoughts about staying as one of "the Bad Guys"...
I went into this movie with low expectations as it didn't sound particularly that interesting to me. But by the end, I found the story to be surprisingly fun and entertaining. This may be a heist movie and it may have the typical clichés and twists that you'd expect from a heist movie, but it's also a comedy and a VERY strong one at that. There is a lot of hilarious slapstick humour, snappy dialogue and quirky personalities that is made even more effective by the film's strong, stylized and energetic animation and the brilliant voice-acting of the main cast that really had me laughing out loud throughout the movie. I kid you not when I say this is a movie where the plot may not be the strongest, but you'll never be bored throughout the picture with how funny it is to watch. There's even a few jokes that had me questioning "How did they get away with that?!", which makes this movie appealing to both kids and adults in terms of the humour they have, which is what a family friendly movie should do.
Despite being a fast-paced comedy, the movie also has a decent amount of heart to it too. The movie maybe called "The Bad Guys", but we see that the titular Bad Guys have a soft side to them too, even Mr. Snake in spite of his grumpy, cynical attitude. The film has a not-so-subtle theme of second chances and that people shouldn't be judged by stereotypes or how they look. The Bad Guys embrace their lives as criminals at first because of how they're often perceived by others, but over the course of the movie they come to learn and even somewhat enjoy the feeling of doing something good and being appreciated for once. One scene that really worked for me was when Mr. Wolf gets the kitten down from the tree, completely unprompted and of his own volition. That was a nice moment and it was a good showing of Mr. Wolf's genuine good side with no hints of his usual deceiving nature.
As mentioned before, the film has a solid message about being misjudged and how we should give second chances. For a kid's movie especially, this is a really important and even relevant message to teach in this day and age and I feel the movie handled it really well without getting too overly preachy and in-your-face about it. Using often feared creatures like wolves, tarantulas, sharks and snakes make for fitting metaphors for those that are looked down upon by society and how they're treated unfairly just because people have to judge them solely by appearance, race, gender, sexuality or what not and it's what makes The Bad Guys the right kind of movie to teach this message. It's an important message that is taught in a child-friendly way to make it suitable for everybody, and that to me is a message well told.
Also as this is a heist movie, The Bad Guys naturally has a few twists here and there. Some are VERY predictable like who the main villain is and some are very unexpected like how the villain gets defeated in the end. Seriously, that was like Zootropolis levels of being played for a sucker and it was quite a sight to behold. XD
If there's any problems I have with the movie, it is the fact that due to being a heist movie and also a family-friendly animated movie, it does come with the usual clichés that we expect from these kinds of films. You have your usual betrayals and twist villains (if you can even call it that because it's VERY obvious who the villain of this movie is!) and, most annoying of all, that damn third-act-break-up trope that I'm honestly sick to death of seeing in nearly every kid's movie nowadays. When are people going to learn that you don't need to have your characters fall out with each other and split-up only to reunite at the end in order to create tension and drama for the story? It's so boring seeing this kind of thing happen all the time and it just gets annoying when these movies do this! It's overdone and predictable as all hell and I'm so sick of seeing this cliché!
Because of this level of predictability, the story feels pretty weak overall and lacks that extra spice that DreamWorks's other movies have that make them feel like more engaging experiences like the Kung Fu Panda and HTTYD movies. I can especially imagine many audiences just sitting there thinking "OK we've gotta go through this moment. OK, we've gotta go through that moment." and so on, and if we're just sitting here counting off the clichés as they happen, then you have an unimaginative story that doesn't feel like you're giving your best effort. It really is thanks to the strong comedy and creative animation on display that the story manages to have anything exciting about it at all. It also doesn't help that this isn't the first time DreamWorks has done a movie about bad guys slowly turning good over time with Megamind having done it way earlier back in 2010, and doing it far more creatively might I add.
Also, this is just a nitpick on my part, but is anyone other than me confused about the world the movie's set in? Like it's a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist together somehow and we're supposed to just accept that without question. I'm just left wondering "but why though?" and question why this isn't a world completely of anthropomorphic animals like Disney's Robin Hood or Zootropolis or even DreamWorks's very own Kung Fu Panda. There's no in-story reason behind it or any logical reason why the world should be this way, it's just...there and I don't get why. I'm sure it's like that in the books too but then I'm left asking these same questions to the books too. I just think the film's setting would've made more sense if it was a world of talking animals and not both talking animals and humans in it at the same time, is all. It's also weird how guys like Mr. Shark and Mr. Piranha can live on land despite being underwater creatures, which further has me confused on how this world's supposed to work.
The story may not be DreamWorks's best work, but it is decently done for the most part with a good message to teach audiences, the occasional clever twist, some hilarious comedy and a good amount of heart that'll make audiences feel good in the end. It's a prime example of how execution is the most important thing in making a good story and how it's not always the idea that makes it great.
Section 2: The Characters
These guys may call themselves "The Bad Guys", but they're certainly not bad characters that carry the movie.
We have the titular gang itself with Mr. Wolf (played by Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (played by Marc Maron), Ms. Tarantula (played by Awkwafina), Mr. Piranha (played by Anthony Ramos) and Mr. Shark (played by Craig Robinson) who all have their own roles and style of comedy that makes them all memorable, fun and enjoyable.
Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake are the ones who have the lion's share of character development here with Mr. Wolf starting off as the charismatic, cunning and sly leader of the team who slowly starts to embrace his good side while Mr. Snake is the grumpy, cynical sourpuss of the group who's truly embraced his role as one of the bad guys and is the closest guy to Mr. Wolf of the group who comes to see that he may have a good side of his own by the end of the movie. Mr. Wolf is a tonne of fun to watch with his charmer act and how he tries to prove himself to be some kind of big shot but he may not be quite as cool as he thinks he is (especially when he ends up at the butt of some of the film's funniest moments) and the chemistry he has with Diana Foxington (played by Zazie Beetz) is especially fun to watch as both come to learn there's more to the other than meets the eye.
Sadly Mr. Shark, Mr. Piranha and Ms. Tarantula don't really have any development and are just one-note characters as the strongman, the hacker and the crazy guy respectively, although Mr. Shark and Mr. Piranha have some very amusing moments of their own with Mr. Piranha especially being enjoyable to watch with how nuts he can be at times.
We have Diane Foxington, a governor vixen who sees The Bad Guys as washed-up-has-beens but ends up deciding with some prompting to give them a chance to redeem themselves while also proving to be more than we expected as her role is much bigger than what some might think. She's by far my favourite character in the movie for being the most interesting, cool and charming of the bunch. That and you can't go wrong with pretty fox girls, am I right? XD
And then there's Professor Marmalade (played by Richard Ayoade). He's the Good Samaritan of the city who pushes the idea of giving the Bad Guys their second chance and, big surprise, is actually the villain of the movie. No I'm not counting that as a spoiler because it was SO obvious that calling it a spoiler is being too generous! After his true nature is revealed, he's just a generic money-hungry villain hiding behind a mask and just pales in comparison to far better DreamWorks villains like Tai Lung, Lord Shen, Drago Bludvist and Grimmel. If it wasn't for Richard Ayoade's performance, I'd have considered him completely disposable. As is, he's by far the weakest character in the movie.
The only other noteworthy side-character is Misty Luggins (played by Alex Borstein). She's just the determined cop that wants to catch the Bad Guys and while she doesn't play a huge role in the story, she at least manages to be somewhat amusing with how over-the-top she is and how crazy determined she is to catch the criminal gang.
Not all the characters are great, but most of them are enjoyable enough in their own right thanks to some slick writing that gives many of them their own charm and a lot of personality. If they had a stronger villain, the cast could've been perfect. But for what we got, I enjoyed seeing these guys in action and I think many viewers will find a favourite or two.
Section 3: The Animation
DreamWorks has never failed to make their movies look spectacular. Well...except for Shark Tale admittedly. But when DreamWorks nails their animation, they nail it HARD and this movie is no exception!
The Bad Guys is a GORGEOUS looking movie with a more stylized art-style than what we're used to from the studio and we end up with a beautiful look that looks like the perfect combination between hand-drawn animation and computer animation. There are some animated properties that have tried to have 3-D animation emulate 2-D but it doesn't often work. The Bad Guys is the exception as they really make it work here and as a result, gives us one of DreamWorks's prettiest and slickest looking movies we've had in a while.
As I say, the animation has a more stylized and cartoonish look to it than previous DreamWorks films with many of these characters looking like they came straight out of a modern Disney cartoon (especially with those Gravity Falls style mouths on the human characters) thanks to having smoother, rounder features and body proportions and as a result, we get some very expressive and dynamic character animation out of these characters. I'd even say that this cartoony art-style even adds to the fact that this movie is based on a children's book series and as a result, these characters look like they could've come out of a children's book series thanks to their more kid-friendly appearances. Also the movie has a bright and crisp colour palette that helps further make the visuals look appealing to the eye. Due to how the colours are applied and the way the lighting looks in the movie, it gives the style even more of that 2-D look as a result and it really does make for some beautiful looking eye-candy to enjoy.
The animators take full advantage of the animal designs with Mr. Snake's long slithery body and Ms. Tarantula's multiple limbs and how these animals might use their unique bodies to carry out crimes like having Mr. Snake use his body in multiple ways to compensate for his lack of hands or Ms. Tarantula being able to type rapidly and on multiple keyboards at once with her extra legs. This in turn makes the heist scenes very fun to watch as these animals carry out their robberies and use their unique abilities to their advantages.
Because of the stylized animation, it helps the animators deliver some wonderfully chaotic, frantic and fun action scenes to watch whether it's the gang in a high-speed car chase or when there's a fight going on. The car chases are especially hilarious to watch with the wackiness of the animation at play with all the high-speed action that we expect from a car chase and how the animators work in a tonne of slapstick to make the scenes even funnier to watch. I also loved the scene where the Crimson Paw breaks into prison to help the Bad Guys out and beats up all the cops that get in their way. The dynamic action combined with the slapstick comedy made for one fun fight scene to watch and the excellent choreography pays off beautifully with how creative the animators got in animating it. You really have to wonder what the storyboard meetings must've looked like for these action scenes and how to execute them.
As is, the animation maybe zany and wacky in how the visuals are presented, but it also knows when to slow down and take a breather during the more emotional moments of the movie, like that lovely quiet moment with Mr. Wolf and the kitten for example. It knows when to be crazy during the funnier moments and it knows when to slow down in the calmer moments, thus showing this movie understands that just being over-the-top all the way through doesn't make for a solid movie and prevents it from being too juvenile for older audiences.
If there's anything to critique about the animation, it's mostly down to how the style sometimes leaves for some odd moments, like how for The Bad Guys their teeth will often change shape to fit whatever expression they're making at the time. Mr. Snake, Piranha and Shark especially are guilty of this with their pointy teeth suddenly going smoother or straighter when they're talking or smiling and then going back to pointy again in other instances. It just looks weird whenever it happens but I'm aware that's just a weird nitpick of mine.
Also I find it odd how we have Professor Marmalade who's design fits in with the rest of the anthro animals in the movie but then we have realistic Guinea pigs that don't match how he looks. Heck, the film's weird setting just brings up further questions like if this is a world of talking animals and humans living together, then why do we have non-anthropomorphic Guinea pigs or a kitten that's also not anthropomorphic? It's just so weird seeing these proper animal designs alongside these humanoid like animals and really makes the world it's set in even weirder as a result. This isn't a fault against the animation by-the-way, this is more a criticism against the weird setting of the movie and how it raises up confusing inconsistencies like this.
Overall, the animation has little to criticize and is by far the best thing about this movie. It's highly energetic, hugely expressive, smoothly animated and overall appealing to look at and serves as a fine example of DreamWorks animation at its finest. It maybe different from their usual style, but it's a good different in this case.
It certainly feels nice to have a good DreamWorks movie again. The Bad Guys isn't their best work, but it's easily among their enjoyable movies thanks to some strong comedy, an important message that's only become more relevant in this day and age, likeable characters with a lot of quirky charm to them, slick action scenes and some gorgeous animation. It does suffer from a weak story with a lot of predictable and annoying clichés in it and a really bland villain, but I say the good stuff in The Bad Guys makes for a fun romp that is ultimately an enjoyable treat that I'm sure many will enjoy. They call themselves "The Bad Guys", but they certainly WEREN'T put in a bad movie...
That's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and as usual, feel free to share your thoughts down below. Did you like The Bad Guys? Did you not like it? Tell all about it. Next week, I'll be preparing myself for Sonic the Hedgehog's big-screen sequel by watching the first movie for the first time ever...yes I'm really overdue, I know. =P
See you then, media fans!