DIRECTOR: Pierre Perifel

CAST: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Lilly Singh, Alex Borstein

RUNNING TIME: 100 mins

CERTIFICATE: U

BASICALLY…: A gang of criminal animals attempt to reform themselves as good citizens…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

While Pixar’s reputation as the soulful, mature animation studio remains steady with Turning Red, DreamWorks Animation’s own image as the anti-Pixar – that is to say, slightly less concerned about meaningful themes and heart-warming emotion, and more about delivering the most stylised and occasionally beautiful forms of family-orientated slapstick imaginable within some fairly basic plots – is equally sound with the release of their 42nd (!) film, The Bad Guys. On paper, it’s reasonably standard family fare, with its decent messages about being good and bad, on top of all the slapstick and fart jokes you could imagine from such a kid-friendly outing, but to see it in action is a whole lot of fun, with its smoothly stylised animation and enjoyable humour proving to be an entertaining formula for most viewers, regardless of age.

Based on the long-running book series of the same name, the film is set in a world where anthropomorphic animals exist among humans, and where a group of animal career criminals known as the Bad Guys has become notorious for robbing banks, committing daring heists, and just all around being pretty despicable and fearsome to everyone around them. Their leader is Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell) who, with his second-in-command Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), hacker spider Miss Tarantula (Awkwafina), master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) and unhinged muscle Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), plots another heist which ends up going wrong, and with all of them in handcuffs. In a cynical ploy to avoid jail time, Mr. Wolf persuades wealthy guinea pig philanthropist Doctor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) that he and his crewmates can rehabilitate themselves as good civilians under his watch, to impress city governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) and other attendees at an upcoming charity gala. However, it isn’t long before Mr. Wolf begins to have a change of heart about his devious ways, and defies his wicked co-conspirators by starting to genuinely consider life as a good guy, causing the others to start feeling the same way.

The film works best during its first half, particularly within an opening stretch where it really flexes its initial “Tarantino for tykes” billing. The dialogue is written and performed like it’s Reservoir Dogs, only if it took place in a family-friendly cartoon universe where that title could literally describe certain characters, and where the frequent swearing and violence is replaced by a piranha whose farts are so strong that they fill entire rooms with green gas – which, admittedly, does kill the cool vibe that the first act is otherwise aiming for. Fart jokes aside, though, director Pierre Perifel (here marking his feature debut) has a lot of fun with setting up each of our main characters, within a slick animation style that combines CG graphics with 2D outlines, making characters and cityscapes look like hand-drawn sketches come to life. It’s a neat visual style that many other animated films have picked up on in the wake of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and here it’s used to eye-pleasing effect during car chases, elaborate heists and hand-to-paw fight sequences that contain plenty of strong physical humour and quick wit.

Inevitably, though, it does fall into familiar family-movie territory when things become more focused on the messages it wants to convey. The themes themselves aren’t bad – again, they’re the standard good-vs-evil morals that almost every family movie abides by – but they are dealt with in all the ways you would most likely expect, with certain character reveals being a bit too easy to predict, and a climax that you can see coming from way in the distance. For young kids, and even some adults, there’s still plenty to really enjoy about it, from the cool animation to the gags which are often very funny in how speedily and earnestly they’re delivered, to the voice acting wherein the likes of Sam Rockwell and Awkwafina bring a whole bunch of charm to their characters. However, if you’re going in expecting the messages to be just as unique and inviting as its overall sense of style, there’s not a whole lot to take away from it.

Also, from a personal standpoint, I have some questions about this universe. For one, why is it – in a world where humanity apparently exists alongside animals who can walk and talk like everyone else – that other animals such as cats and guinea pigs are still just as docile as in real life? Also, if everyone fears the Bad Guys because they’re primarily animals, wouldn’t that make this in-universe society really racist? And how the hell does a piranha produce enough gas in its tiny little body to not only clear out entire rooms but also be physically present in the form of thick green clouds? I know it’s foolish to question such things in a film largely made for children, but you don’t just introduce a farting piranha and expect to walk away without facing serious logic concerns. One day, we’ll have our answers about farting piranhas… one day.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Bad Guys is a mostly fun family caper that gets by with stylish animation and engaging characters, though its ultimate messages about good and evil aren’t the freshest in the land, while the presence of a farting piranha will have you questioning your entire existence.

The Bad Guys will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 1st April 2022 – click here to find a screening near you!

Did you like this review? Want to know when the next one comes out?

Sign up to our e-mail service today, and get our latest reviews and previews sent straight to your inbox!