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"The Bad Guys": A Noble DreamWorks Animated Heist

Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.

Books into DreamWorks Classics

Adapting a book into a movie is no easy task. Yet, when it comes to DreamWorks Animation, the studio itself has a history of making books into films. In fact, some don't even realize that these movies were based on books, to begin with. The biggest examples are the Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon franchises. Though they are loosely based and took artistic liberties, these movies have been proven successful with the right filmmakers attached. Nowadays, that tradition continues whether they are faithful to the source material like Captain Underpants or using style over substance as commercial hits, such as The Boss Baby.

But, today's most interesting case is "The Bad Guys." Illustrated by Aaron Blabey, the children's graphic novel series followed a group of anthropomorphic animals as criminals who attempt to perform good deeds with varying results. It's no surprise that I am unfamiliar with these books in general. Yet, knowing DreamWorks, I'd always set my expectations low.

Aside from that, this will be the directorial debut of animator Pierre Perifel. Pierre had experience in the industry using both 2D and 3D animation. While he contributed to a couple of DreamWorks movies, Perfiel developed a couple of projects that never went to fruition for various reasons. Regardless, he managed to bounce back with one of his canceled projects revived as the award-winning short Bilby and was given the feature-length dream he always wanted. Now that Pierre takes the helm, does he give the Bad Guys a chance to be good?

A group of criminal animals pretends to reform themselves while secretly planning a grand heist.


Weak Writing; Strong Morale

With a title like "The Bad Guys", don't expect anything complex from a story like this. Since this film is based on a children's book series, the story is told in the most simplistic manner. It doesn't help either that the plot is very easy to follow: a group of criminals wants to be taken seriously. They plan to steal this valuable object while pretending to be good in order to reach closer to their goal. You can guess what happens next.

The weakest aspect that the movie carries is the plot is predictable. Anyone without prior knowledge of the books would figure out the outcome who's really the good, bad, and/or somewhere in-between. Granted, there are a couple of twists that will catch newcomers off-guard. Even so, the movie plays it too safe to the point that anyone will result in lacking enthusiasm or investment in the picture.

Upon my research, the movie was written by Etan Cohen. He is generally speaking a hit-and-miss writer when it comes to comedy films. I remember laughing out loud when Etan wrote for Madagascar Escape 2 Africa or rolling my eyes when he directed Get Hard. Thankfully, the comedy is appropriately balanced. While there may be a couple of recurring jokes that may miss their marks, there is a decent amount of slapstick, visual gags, and dialogue that will leave out laughs.

With all that information said, you suspect this sounds like an underwhelming movie. Well, it sort of is...on paper.

When it comes to the execution, however, that's where the movie shows its true colors. In an ironic twist, this movie acts exactly how the titular characters were portrayed. As an adaptation, it is faithful to the source material with minor changes. While the worldbuilding may confuse those that are unfamiliar, you can make the argument that the animals are depicted as an allegory of a diverse cast and how they visually represent the negative stereotypes others view them. All of these factors result in high positive morale on how good can affect others, never judge a book by its cover, and take responsibility for your actions.

The story may appear average and foreseeable at first, but with the right amount of self-esteem and laughs, it is pleasantly effective.

2D-Stylized 3D Animation

When DreamWorks visually crafts books into movies, they've always had a distinctive visual identity. The Bad Guys easily falls into that category and the animation is the movie's highlight. Inspired by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Perifel and his team of animators decided to make the artistry as illustrative and stylized as possible, when compared to other DreamWorks movies.

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While the character designs remain basic and loyal to the books, they took influence from comic artists, such as Hergé and Uderzo, thus giving them a cel-shaded look that resembles a 2D illustrated book rather than a fully 3D animated feature. Some believe that the characters resemble character designs from the massive air-quote "controversial" CalArts style used in recent Cartoon Network shows. Personally, that style doesn't bother me and feels more like a coincidence. The animators also give each animal a unique ability that fits into the heist genre. These examples include Mr. Snake coughing up tools he hides from his stomach or Mrs. Tarantula using her legs to hack computers faster. Since the movie is a comedy, the character animation takes full advantage where the movements are energized and sharp. Bonus points on the textures, such as fur and scales, to avoid an uncanny valley and remain consistent with the cartoony nature.

DreamWorks meant business when this movie takes a twist on the heist genre similarly to their previous masterpieces. The animators really did their homework after studying Guy Ritchie and Quintin Tarantino's films in terms of color and cinematography. The action scenes are a lot of fun to watch whether it is the car chase from the beginning to a suspenseful climax full of cute and dangerous proportions. Speaking of Tarantino, the opening scene is a homage to the diner scene from Pulp Fiction. As weird and out-of-place as it sounds, the execution plays out the scene naturally making this scene alone the longest one-shot in the studio's history.

When watching the animation alone, this feature proves that Pierre Perfiel is a man with talent, and the visuals transition the book beautifully.


The "Not-Too-Bad and Kind of Charming" Guys

This would be very challenging since both words "bad" and "good" would be confusing to those which these characters would belong under. As mentioned before, the movie depicts the titular characters in a rudimentary and stereotypical manner. Yet, the movie displays a hidden charm and a shocking twist to certain characters that one may least expect.

Beginning our characters is, no pun intended, the leader of the pack Mr. Wolf. He is the suave and pickpocketing expert who struggles with his newfound good nature. Mr. Snake is Wolf's sarcastic and safe-cracking best friend that enjoys their criminal life. Mr. Shark is the sensitive master-of-disguise member. Mrs. Tarantula is the blunt expert-hacker. Mr. Piranha is an unpredictable short-tempered member. Individually, they are one-note characters (with the exception of Wolf and Snake) with traits that would pull off as a recurring joke. But together, they are a group of diverse people that gradually benefit from the core message of being good.

The most interesting characters in the film are Diane Foxington and Professor Rupert Marmalade IV. Diane is the newly appointed city governor that believes anyone has the potential to change for the better, no matter what they appear to be. As for Rupert, he is a philanthropist guinea pig that becomes the criminals' new "good deeds" teacher. Without spoiling, anyone who has read the books would find these characters remain spiritual to the source material.

Even if the characters may not have enough personality, the voice acting helps adds layers of charisma. Sam Rockwell and Marc Maron definitely have chemistry as polar-opposite long-time friends. Craig Ferguson and Awkwafina do get a laugh every now and then. Richard Ayoade's voice is fitting for a cute-looking yet intelligent guinea pig. Even Alex Borstein is surprisingly funny as this burly police chief woman constantly hunting the Bad Guys down.

Like the movie itself, the characters would appear as one-dimensional jokes, but once you get to know them, they contain elements that will make them stand out and entertaining.

The Bad Guys is Good Enough

Overall, The Bad Guys is a welcoming addition to the DreamWorks animation library. It was a difficult first impression of an average film with its formulaic plot, at-random jokes, and lacking depth. However, as an adaptation of the books, it delivers them justice with a profound message, talented animation techniques, and unexpected and captivating performances.

Outside of families, fans of the book series will have a good time with this flick. Anyone else would find this passable or a rental at first, mostly for the visual eye candy. Admitedly, it's not up there with the DreamWorks classics, but it is a step-up from the Boss Baby films.

Pierre Perfiel went a long way but managed to show audiences what's he capable of and hoping for a brighter future with his directing career.

It comes to show that you don't need to be bad to be a bad movie, you have to prove yourself worthy to be good.

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