The Bad Guys continues a long movie tradition of flipping career villains into reluctant heroes. Based on the kid’s book series by Aaron Blabey, this cute little animated story imagines a world where a clique of fairy-tale heavies form a cheeky little Ocean’s 11 squad of master thieves. And like every thief in every heist movie, these cocky rogues have to confront a new reality where they must walk a more righteous path.
The movie opens with the bandits pulling a bank job that borrows heavily from Pulp Fiction and Point Break. (Would I like to see a mash-up of those two movies? The answer is hell to the friggin’ yes.) Mr. Wolf (voice of Sam Rockwell) leads the robbery, whilst providing droll narration along the way. Mr. Snake (Marc Maron) is his loyal Sundance Kid. Also along for the ride are the usual role players: Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) can pull off any disguise. Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina) is an expert hacker. Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), a deadly fish with bad gas and a lovely singing voice, provides the brawn. Right from the film’s opening minutes, it’s clear these guys are a well-oiled machine.
Well, just like every other heist flick, our anti-heroes fly a little too close to the sun. The gang watches a newscast, where Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), the state’s new governor, seems to taunt them into action. Mr. Wolf takes it personally, and decides to pull off The Heist to End All Heists: Foxington is set to hand out a do-gooder award to Rupert Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a haughty guinea pig with a hidden agenda. Naturally, Wolf and his merry band plan to steal this golden trophy from under Foxington’s nose.
As you can guess, the job goes off the rails. Foxington plans to chuck these lifer criminals in the clink, but Marmalade has a nobler idea. Everyone in Wolf’s gang has considerable talent and intelligence. Maybe they could be…reformed? The team chuckles at the idea of becoming good guys, but it beats prison, so they play along. Meanwhile, that golden idol is still sitting there, practically daring them to steal it.
Nothing in The Bad Guys will surprise you, but that’s also beside the point. Even if the destination is a forgone conclusion, the journey is actually a lot of fun. Director Pierre Perifel and screenwriter Etan Cohen dose the film with frequent pop culture riffs, including sly references to everything from the aforementioned Ocean‘s flicks to Drive and The Thomas Crown Affair. Even better, the voice cast is universally on-point, especially Rockwell as the Bad Guys’ charismatic front man. Maron also has a good time with Mr. Snake, who looks like Sir Hiss from Disney’s Robin Hood and sounds like two packs of cigarettes.
Finally, anyone who dug on the visuals of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will revel in The Bad Guys‘ deceptively complex aesthetic. This film uses a similar technique, blending the look and feel of traditional animation with the depth and vibrance of CGI. While kids go all-in on the story, parents can enjoy the energy and attention to detail that flow through just about every shot in the movie.
These days, that’s about the highest compliment you can pay a children’s movie. As a parent to a toddler, I can tell you that even the most precocious of kids don’t have discerning taste when it comes to what they watch. In fact, a lot of the stuff that truly enthralls them is…what’s the technical term? Crap. Pure crap. (I’m looking at you, Blippi!) Anybody who can make anything entertaining enough for everybody deserves those three-and-a-half stars, and probably a gentle kiss on the forehead.
100 min. PG. On demand.