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The Bad Guys

From a talented cast to phenomenal animation, The Bad Guys is the film DreamWorks needed more than ever to show off what the studio can still do.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This article predates the Odd Trilogies website.
It was originally published on Film Yap.

For the past three years, DreamWorks Animation has been in an odd place. After the releases of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Abominable ( their joint project with Pearl Studio that came and went with very little fanfare) in 2019, DreamWorks made the decision to buckle down mainly on three franchises: Trolls, The Croods, and The Boss Baby. While Trolls World Tour was impacted heavily by the pandemic, films like 2020’s The Croods: A New Age and last year’s The Boss Baby: Family Business were able to keep the company alive as films were coming back to theaters. However, while those films did decent enough at the box office, the consensus seemed to be that DreamWorks was falling behind quality-wise when compared to Disney, Pixar, and even Sony Pictures Animation. With the competition bringing films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseSoul, and Encanto to the table, how many people are going to keep paying attention to DreamWorks when what they’re offering is another Boss Baby film in response? 

Thankfully, that changes with The Bad Guys. Based on the popular graphic novels by Aaron Blabey, the film follows a group of notorious animal criminals (led by Sam Rockwell’s Wolf) who decide that it might be time to become good for the better. While the new governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) doesn’t believe in their plea for a second chance, the altruistic Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) decides to give Wolf and his team (which consists of Marc Maron’s Snake, Awkafina’s Tarantula, Craig Robinson’s Shark, and Anthony Ramos’ Piranha) accepts the proposal. With the ball in their court, will the Bad Guys try to take advantage of the good will to make another heist? Or will they take this chance at redemption seriously?

One of the first things that stands out about the film is the performances. With a stacked cast of stars, it’s genuinely refreshing to see a cast this talented really having a fun time with their roles. While the characters themselves are not insanely deep, their personalities shine bright thanks to the writing (which has some really good comedic moments) and the actors putting just enough in to make it seem more like a passion project than a paycheck. Marc Maron is such a delightful curmudgeon as Snake, Zazie Beetz is a fun foil as Diane, Richard Ayoade is always a blast to see/hear in big budget films, and Sam Rockwell plays Wolf as the best living embodiment of “the Dreamworks face”: a snarky, fun protagonist who feels a bit more adult than the average hero in an animated film. With some fun performances across the board, it very much feels like the ensemble would be on board for a possible sequel down the line. 

However, the cast is truly not the best selling point of the film; it’s the animation. After years of DreamWorks films almost having a homogeneous feel to them design-wise (especially when comparing character designs), here’s a film that feels like it’s changing just enough of the formula to feel like the best decision DreamWorks has made in a very long time. From a unique sun-bleached color palette to a pretty perfect blend of 2D with 3D animation, The Bad Guys is a visual delight that doesn’t even feel like a DreamWorks film at times. The inspirations from the books, rubber-hose animation, anime, and even modern films like Into the Spider-Verse blend together to make a film that is such a blast to watch in motion. There’s a passion that explodes onto the screen in every scene, making it all the more wild that DreamWorks never went this route in the past because it certainly stands out amongst the competition.

While discussing the film’s phenomenal animation, the film’s action pairs perfectly with it. In the first ten minutes, the amount of satisfying twists and turns makes even the action in better DreamWorks films look unbearably slow in comparison. From the action lines to exaggerate the movement to the little details in the positions of fist strikes or the way Wolf drives his car during a high-speed chase, there were moments in The Bad Guys where I couldn’t help but get chills from the shot compositions in the action sequences to the seamlessness from action to a normal conversation. The fact that the animators are going hard from every angle just makes the film that much more exciting when something small is caught in a scene, resulting in a film similar to Into the Spider-Verse or last year’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines where multiple viewings could just be dedicated to discovering small visual gags or 2D details that give the characters that much more personality in motion. With such kinetic action paired with phenomenal animation, it’s hard to not appreciate such a different approach from director Pierre Perifel and the team of talented DreamWorks animators that brought the film to life. 

Even though it’s such a fun film in motion, I will admit that the film’s breakneck pace and occasional dip into the cliché well leads The Bad Guys to feel a bit held back by its script from time to time. Besides that though, this doesn’t keep the film from being the most fun I’ve had with a DreamWorks film in over six years. From the talented cast to the incredible animation, The Bad Guys is a film that builds a world I’d be happy to revisit in the future. With the film being based off of a book series that’ll be fifteen books deep this year, it’s hard not to be curious about if the film’s success will lead the film to become DreamWorks’ next big franchise. Regardless, The Bad Guys is a delightful film that shows DreamWorks still has more to offer than the next Trolls sequel or Boss Baby Netflix show. While we’re no doubt getting more of those types of projects in the future, I’m genuinely fine with that so long as more films like The Bad Guys become more of a trend as well for the studio.

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Freelance writer out of Indianapolis. Co-host of Odd Trilogies podcast. Whether it's films or television, I'm always down to watch!

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