The new movie from Dreamworks Animation, "The Bad Guys" couches a great lesson for kids in a fun-filled, action-packed heist movie: being good and doing good makes one feel good.
The film marks the feature directing debut of veteran animator, Pierre Perifel, and he brings the genre alive with a frenetic burst of energy. Perifel, working from a script by Etan Cohen based on the books by Aussie author Aaron Blabey, gives the audience everything a heist movie lover (including myself) could want, right down to the pre-heist montage detailing how impossible the job will be.
The Bad Guys, all anthropomorphic animals of the kind that haunt our nightmares, are a close-knit group of friends who love the thieving lifestyle and the loot it brings but also love each other even if they constantly bicker amongst themselves.
Wolf (Sam Rockwell) and crew in "The Bad Guys." © 2022 Dreamworks Animation. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell) is the leader of the pack. Channeling George Clooney from Ocean's 11, Wolf has a quick hand and smooth charm. He's also sick and tired of being the villain of every story. Deep down he desires love and acceptance. He doesn't want to be the Big Bad Wolf, instilling terror in everyone he meets. But what to do?
Wolf's best bud is the grumpy Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), the group's safe-cracker and wise-cracker. Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) takes the prize as master of disguise. Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) is the group's muscle and has a unique problem: he farts when he lies. Rounding out the crew is expert computer hacker, Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina). Her pals lovingly call her "Webs" and her eight legs really help when she's hacking multiple systems at once.
When the city's Good Samaritan Gala presents the opportunity for them to steal the "holy grail of thievery," the Golden Dolphin award, they plan their heist but are foiled. When they get caught, Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a self-important guinea pig entrepreneur, intercedes, hoping to convince Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) to let him run an experiment: teach the Bad Guys to be good "like the icon of love and forgiveness, like Mother Teresa." Incidentally, Saint Mother Teresa is mentioned twice in the film.
Richard Ayoade voices Professor Marmalade in "The Bad Guys." © 2022 Dreamworks Animation. All Rights Reserved.
When the Bad Guys (to get out of going to jail) go to Marmalade's compound, the not-so-subtle lesson in character development begins. The kids in the audience probably won't even realize they're being taught the value of self-sacrifice, friendship, and that doing things for others rather than oneself actually brings intense satisfaction, so caught up will they be in the funny antics the Bad Guys face as they fight against their long-practiced tendency toward badness. They'll also probably giggle a bit at the flatulence-inspired jokes that come at Piranha's expense.
The voice cast knocks their performances out of the park, especially in the banter between their characters. Unusual in animated films, the actors were sometimes able to record together thus making it easier to play off each other. Anthony Ramos even gets to exercise his singing chops when Piranha takes the stage at the Gala, distracting the authorities from his thieving friends.
Anthony Ramos voices Mr. Piranha in "The Bad Guys." © 2022 Dreamworks Animation. All Rights Reserved.
With lots of laugh-out-loud twists and turns (including a zombie hoard of mind-controlled guinea pigs), that frankly, might confuse some younger viewers, the film still delivers good values packaged up in a funny, delightful film that just might have you wagging your own tail.