Director – Pierre Perifel – 2022 – US – Cert. U – 100m
A group of criminal animals led by a wolf mastermind pretend to go straight to pull off their greatest job ever – animated feature previews Saturday and Sunday, March 26th & 27th, out in cinemas on Friday, April 1st
It sounds a near impossible feat to pull off, yet The Bad Guys manages to successfully parody the meanness and violence of the gangster movie genre in a children’s animated film without any of the meanness and violence normally associated with that genre. It opens with two guys (well, a wolf and a snake) hanging out in a restaurant shooting the breeze. Yes, there’s only the two of them, but anyone who knows their gangster movies will immediately think of the six guys sitting around a restaurant table at the start of Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1993) and to underscore the point, the characters are called Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake (along with, when we meet them shortly after, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Piranha and Mr. Shark). They’re animals, but they could just as easily have been colours.
As his animal type suggests, Mr Wolf (voice: Sam Rockwell) is the leader of the pack. Mr. Snake (voice: Marc Maron) is the safecracker, Ms. Tarantula (voice: Awkwafina) the computer tech, Mr. Shark (voice: Anthony Ramos) the master of disguise and, finally, the loose cannon Mr. Piranha (voice: Craig Robinson) who can’t help farting green gas when lying. They are relentlessly pursued by a large woman Police Chief Misty Luggins (voice: Alex Borstein) who in both temperament and animation style appears to have been modelled on Inspector Zenigata from Japan’s Lupin III franchise even though that character is thin and male. The Chief’s sole reason for being is to catch Wolf and Co., yet somehow she never quite manages it, to both her own frustration and the delight of the audience.
Wolf and crew may however have met their match in the city’s new mayor, Diane Foxington (voice: Zazie Beetz), a smart fox who intends to see the gang behind bars. She is about to present the prestigious Golden Dolphin award to the unbearably virtuous guinea pig Professor Marmalade (voice: Richard Ayoade) at the upcoming Good Samaritan Awards ceremony, the trophy being the object that criminals would most like to steal that has lead to the downfall of many of them. Wolf’s plan to steal the award goes wrong after his saving a little old lady falling down some stairs leads to him involuntarily wagging his tail and experiencing the good feeling that comes from helping others. He convinces the mayor that he and the gang will reform, and she puts them in goodness training with Professor Marmalade. Other motives are also at play, however, and neither the reforming Foxington nor the goody-two shoes Marmalade are quite as virtuous as they appear…
In the manner of much contemporary Hollywood animation, the film never seems to sit still for a moment, yet because it’s loosely modelled on the gangster movie, the caper movie and the action movie, this works rather well, turning the film into a series of compelling robberies and car chases punctuated by the gang being required to do such things as, rescue a cat from a tree or, when Marmalade seizes the opportunity to exploit the gang’s ability to pull off a heist, free hundreds of guinea pigs from an animal testing centre. The mass of guinea pigs (who are much smaller than – indeed are guinea pig size compared to – Marmalade) are latter pressed into service when a villain takes over control of their minds en masse.
Although clearly aimed at a younger audience, the clever script understands the differences and links between good and bad behaviour and never pits a foot wrong as it explores the idea of bad characters reforming and good characters switching over to being baddies. The voice cast are striking, with Rockwell carrying the piece as the wisecracking wolf and Ayoade’s goody-goody guinea pig in particular a delight to listen to. Visually, the animation provides enough eye-candy to hold the attention throughout. In short, although this looks like it could be another disposable, Hollywood kids’ animation, it turns out to be thoroughly enjoyable and a heap of fun.
The Bad Guys previews Saturday and Sunday, March 26th & 27th, is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, April 1st.