Directed by: Pierre Perifel
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Patrick Hao
About four years removed from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the ripple effects of that film’s success have begun reverberating through mainstream American animation. With “Turning Red” and the new DreamWorks film, “The Bad Guys,” CGI animation has now begun to take a more stylistic and painterly form. Character models are less focused on realism and more on expressiveness. The humor, similarly, has begun taking a more comic slapstick feel, less reliant on references to pop culture like DreamWorks films of old, but more in the vein of Looney Tunes or Three Stooges-style slapstick.
“The Bad Guys” seems to be a crucial step in DreamWorks Animation trying to create a new identity for themselves since being acquired by NBCUniversal in 2016. The film feels like a turning point in aesthetics and sensibility. The feature debut of veteran animator Pierre Perifel, his stylistic approach, influenced by the comics of “Asterix” and “The Adventures of TinTin” is a perfect match for the series of children’s books written by Aaron Bleby. Bleby’s books irreverence were influenced by the films of Tarantino and Guy Richie, and Perifel’s animation matches that tone with elegance.
The film is standard fare plot-wise. In Los Angeles, a group of anthropomorphic animal criminals led by Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), seek to complete their greatest heist. His team is made up of the irascible Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), the hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), the master of disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and the loose cannon heavy Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos). They seek to steal the Golden Dolphin award from the guinea pig philanthropist Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (Richard Ayoade), all while avoiding the new governor who vowed to capture them, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz).
When Mr. Wolf commits a good deed that ruins the heist and leads to his team’s capture, he begins to wonder if he should lead a good life, leading to a rehabilitation campaign for the team, much to their chagrin. The cinematic influences are layered throughout the film. The fourth-wall-breaking narration is reminiscent of Danny Boyle. The heists are clear homages to Steven Soderbergh and Jules Dassin. But, none of the film’s odes ever feels gratuitous. Rather it is in line with the film’s ultimate goal of being a good time.
The humor is a good mix of low-brow slapstick and controlled frenzy, none of which would have been properly pulled off without its committed voice cast. Maron, in particular, delivers much pathos and gravitas to his performance of Mr. Snake, a cynical creature who cannot admit how much he loves his found family.
If anything holds “The Bad Guys” back from being in the upper echelon of animated films, it is its lack of ambitions to be that. It’s clear that the goal was to create a superficial film of pleasure and in that respect, Perifel and his crew succeeded. The film is frequently funny and entertaining. Its greatest impact, however, will not be its rewatchability, but, hopefully, a sign of things to come in both stylistic innovation and creativity boon for DreamWorks Animation.
“The Bad Guys” Trailer
“The Bad Guys” is in wide theatrical release.