By Lynn Venhaus
While “The Bad Guys” may not be the most original of animated tales, its appeal lies in colorful crafty characters, an inspired voice cast and vibrant visuals.
The humorous action-comedy is based on a series of illustrated children’s graphic novels by Australian author Aaron Blabey that started in 2015. The anthropomorphic animals, who call their gang The Bad Guys, try to perform good deeds to change society’s perception of them, but their efforts fall short, usually.
In this DreamWorks animated feature, the notorious criminals Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) and Ms. Tarantula “Webs” (Awkwafina) are finally caught, much to the delight of human Police Chief (Alex Borstein).
Wolf hatches a plan to save them from jail time, which Governor Foxington (Zazie Beetz) agrees to, and that is for philanthropic award-winning world citizen, a guinea pig named Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayaode), to mentor them on how to be good. But it’s all a con so they can fool everyone and pull off a big heist.
Director Pierre Perifel, in his feature debut, keeps everything zippy with a breakneck pace. He worked on the animated films “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Rise of the Guardians,” so has familiarity with animal characters.
While the film is a kids’ book adaptation, it also is reminiscent of The Rat Pack’s coolness in the “Ocean’s 11” caper, and the loyal family vibe of the “Fast and Furious” crew.
It also reminded me of the short-lived Hanna-Barbera animated series “Top Cat” from my youth, which was a knock-off of Phil Silvers’ “Sgt. Bilko” –mischievous con artists hatching get-rich-quick schemes.
For as lightweight as the material is, Etan Cohen’s screenplay has some hooks and quips for adults, with additional material by Yoni Brenner and Hilary Winston.
Cohen, who is responsible for the prescient and criminally underrated “Idiocracy” as well as the clever “Tropic Thunder,” has worked in animated series – “King of the Hill” and “American Dad,” among them.
For the kiddos, there are the typical over-the-top situations, slapstick, and outrageous car chases to keep their attention.
The sight gags are geared for the young set – as the colossal shark tries to disguise himself as a society matron while impish sharp-toothed fish has toxic gas-like flatulence.
The voice cast enlivens the narrative considerably. Sam Rockwell brings a slick jauntiness – think Clooney — to the street-wise ringleader Wolf, the big baddie saddled with a negative image from all the fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
Indie darlings Marc Maron, Zazie Beetz and Richard Ayaode have fun in their roles, amping up their characters’ personalities. In their pitch-perfect turns of phrase, the snake is a grouch, the fox is a flirt and the professor’s all snobby condescendence, laying on thick the British manners.
Anthony Ramos breaks loose in song – of course, the musical theater actor (“In the Heights,” “Hamilton”) would have a star turn in a gala musical number, “Good Tonight,” penned by Daniel Pemberton.
The prolific composer’s score here is reminiscent of 1970s heist movies. Pemberton’s ear for retro melodies to craft contemporary film compositions is impressive, as he has shown in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Being the Ricardos.”
Exaggerated in tone and style, “The Bad Guys” is not layered like Pixar, nor does it have any other agenda than to be an entertaining diversion for kids and parents alike.
“The Bad Guys” is a 2022 animated action-crime-comedy directed by Pierre Perifel and featuring voice work from Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Zazie Beetz, Richard Ayaode, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Alex Borstein and Lilly Singh Rated PG for action and rude humor, it runs 1 hour and 40 minutes. It opens in theaters April 22. Lynn’s Grade: B
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.