Seeing as the Oscars’ on-stage presenters Halle Bailey, Lily James, and Naomi Scott referred to animation as something that parents had to “endure”, it’s painfully obvious that the American mainstream still has a long way to go in understanding that cartoons aren’t just for kids. Despite the existence of countless examples from around the world (to say nothing of their own country) proving otherwise, the opinion that animated fare is somehow inferior to its live-action counterparts is somehow one that continues to persist.
As the first major animated feature to be released after the 2022 Oscars, The Bad Guys could easily be dismissed as disposable fluff — if only it wasn’t one of the most gleefully executed heist flicks in years! Read on for eight reasons why:
Based on the bestselling children’s graphic novels of the same name by author-illustrator Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys marks the feature directorial debut of director Pierre Perifel, who’d previously served as an animator on films like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rise of the Guardians. The film loosely adapts the first four stories of the fifteen-book series.
The film centers around a crew of thieves that would make Danny Ocean proud, led by the (naturally) Clooney-esque Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell, Charlie’s Angels, Moon), his best friend, Mr. Snake (standup comedian Marc Maron), hacker extraordinaire, Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina, Shang-Chi, Raya and the Last Dragon), master of disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson, Sausage Party, TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and their resident hothead, Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos, Hamilton).
When the film starts, the crew has already known each other for some time, having amassed a veritable treasure trove of loot in their loft hideout, and are proudly known and feared for their thieving ways.
When The Bad Guys have their criminal relevance mocked by no less than Los Angeles Mayor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz, Joker, TV’s Atlanta), they retaliate by attempting to steal the Golden Dolphin Award from a gala honoring a famed philanthropist (Richard Ayoade, TV’s The I.T. Crowd). Leveraging Marmalade’s belief that anyone can be rehabilitated, the Bad Guys are given the chance to avoid prison if they are able to reform. With the crew working on using the rehab program as part of a bigger con, they’ll find their convictions tested as they discover the joy of doing good deeds and, for one of the team, actually falling in love.
What results is a wild ride of cons, double-crosses, explosions, and car chases that the Bad Guys (and the ones chasing them) never could have imagined.
While the characters in The Bad Guys are all animals, they possess traits and skillsets that will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s seen a heist flick, and it goes through all the beats that one would expect, down to a last-minute fracture in the group that puts the main con in jeopardy. Basically, the main narrative may be taken from Blabey’s books, but the film was clearly made by people who’ve watched everything from The Sting (1973) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968 and 1999) to Oceans Eleven through Thirteen (and maybe Eight, which Awkwafina was also in).
Indeed, if one had to explain this movie to someone, it would probably sound something like, “Oceans Eleven meets Zootopia, by way of Fast and the Furious” and it would be completely valid. And after seeing how genuinely fun this film turned out to be, that is in no way a bad thing — Perifel and screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Idiocracy) manage an impressive job of incorporating their influences, without relying on the tired pop-culture references that films of this type typically lean on.
Aside from colorful characters and cracking dialogue, heist movies are known for establishing the impossibility of the score by showing us all the various things that can go wrong, and then having nearly all of those things happen, forcing our heroes to think on their feet. Throw in a montage and a double-cross or two, and you have your movie, ending with the heroes walking away from the scene of the crime in triumphant slow motion.
Some of the twists are obvious from a mile away, but they’re assembled in such an entertaining manner, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience. This is a solid, well-crafted film that knows exactly what it wants to be and what tone to shoot for, accomplishing both with style to spare.
The Bad Guys’ visuals utilize the same technique that distinguished recent releases like Netflix’s Arcane, overlaying its 3D animation with 2D colors and details. Where that series stunned with its application of a watercolor-illustrated aesthetic, The Bad Guys goes with a clean, old-school cartoon look, characterized by bold outlines (imagine a streamlined version of Turning Red or Mitchells vs. the Machines) that make it endlessly joyful to look at.
The action is spot-on, with the animation style lending itself well to the sort of squash and stretch physics that characterized the very best Looney Tune shorts. What may surprise some viewers is the decidedly-earthbound nature of the action here – sure, cartoon rules apply, but for the most part, the fistfights, acrobatics, and car chases wouldn’t look out of place in a major blockbuster.
Witty editing and stylish cinematography add to the fun, especially in the frenetic final act, which one can honestly say is presented more coherently than the last three or four Fast and Furious movies.
The bottom line
The Bad Guys may be directed towards children, but make no mistake, this is a full-on heist flick that bears its influences proudly. Stylishly designed and with swag to spare, this is a wild, witty ride that fully deserves to be seen by all ages.
Bring on The Bad Guys 2!