Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Being Good at Being Bad
The Bad Guys is a computer-animated comedy based on the children’s book series of the same name. Pierre Perifel makes his directorial debut with the film. Perifel has spent most of his career as an animator; some of his first films were Curious George and The Illusionist, he did some CGI work on Monsters vs. Aliens and Shrek Forever After, he did some traditional animation work for Kung Fu Panda 2 and the Lord Shen character specifically, and he was also the supervising animator on Rise of the Guardians.
The Bad Guys are a group of predators that have teamed up, embraced their sour reputations at face value, and have made a living out of robbing banks and pulling off heists for a living. Taking place in Los Angeles, humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist in The Bad Guys. Led by Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), the team consists of Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina). They seem to enjoy being feared and hated until Mr. Wolf gets a little taste of what it’s like to be good and secretly enjoys it as the team begins to suffer because of it.
Etan Cohen is credited with writing the screenplay for The Bad Guys. Cohen is hit or miss with his other writing credits as he’s also co-written the likes of Idiocracy, Tropic Thunder, and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and is the only contributing screenwriter for Men in Black 3 and Holmes & Watson. The only aspect really holding The Bad Guys from being truly great is how predictable its big reveals are. You know who the villain is very early on, you know who The Crimson Paw is the instant the character is introduced, and you know which member of Mr. Wolf’s crew is going to turn on him. The film may just be sticking close to the source material, but it’s disappointing that The Bad Guys doesn’t offer at least a few surprises when it comes to how the story is written.
The film tends to borrow from well-known heist and crime films with the most notable ones being Ocean’s 11 and Reservoir Dogs. The opening diner scene is heavily inspired by Pulp Fiction and the film is said to also be influenced by Luc Besson, Guy Ritchie, and other works from Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino. The animation style is rather refreshing as it has a cel shaded kind of appearance. It basically looks like a mix of traditional, hand drawn animation and 3D, computer generated animation. Mostly inspired by Sony's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to go in a bold and dynamic direction for the animation, the character designs in The Bad Guys are said to pay homage to Hergé (The Adventures of Tintin), Albert Uderzo (Astérix), André Franquin (Gaston, Marsupilami), Moebius (Blueberry, Jodorowsky’s Dune), and Akira Toriyama (the Dragon Ball franchise).
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What’s interesting is Police Chief Misty Luggins (voiced by Alex Borstein) has a character design that makes it seem like she was pulled right out of Turning Red. It’s similar to the CalArts cartoon style (bean mouth, big eyes, simplistic design) featured in Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Gravity Falls, but most will likely associate Chief Luggins with Mei Lee from Turning Red.
An interesting aspect of the animation is that the black outline generally found on character designs in cartoons is absent in The Bad Guys. Instead the only black outline is around the eyes, which has you focusing on the eye line of every character when they speak. This also allows colors to pop more. The Bad Guys knows how to utilize shading and lighting in a way that makes your eyeballs drool; it’s pure eye candy for animation fans.
Pay particular attention to the lighting during The Crimson Paw introductory fight sequence. Not only is it exquisitely choreographed (those pounding punches and swift kicks are so smooth), but it features this expertly innovative lighting to highlight every movement and make everything easy for your brain to process during the action. The film seems to be at its best during the action sequences in general; particularly when smoke is spewing from tires during a car chase. It’s also cool that polaroids in the film are just hand drawn pictures to make them seem flatter and more one-dimension in comparison to the rest of the animation.
Despite the film being about a group of animals generally associated with being relentless predators, The Bad Guys has a meaningful message for anyone willing to watch the film. Stereotypes are usually just something our brains link someone to until we get to know them better. There’s more to someone than the reputation we think they have. The Bad Guys also portrays individuals as being able to change over time or even be capable of dropping the society barrier they may have protected themselves with for so long only to finally feel comfortable in their own skin.
It’s a shame that the story isn’t nearly as appealing as the animation in The Bad Guys. The film is smart and funny with slick animation. The Bad Guys is a delightful heist that you crave to be a part of.
© 2022 Chris Sawin