Once the home of giants including Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How To Train Your Dragon, Dreamworks has played it safe over the last few years, with competitor Pixar disappearing into the distance. Films like Boss Baby, Trolls, and The Croods are enjoyable, but they are glossy distractions for children rather than something worth remembering. Their latest caper, The Bad Guys, isn’t much better, but at least it tries something different.
Sharply animated and wittily performed by the all-star cast, we’re in Sing/Zootopia territory as once again anthropomorphic animals run the show. Sam Rockwell voices Mr Wolf, the leader of a crack gang of thieves who are caught after one heist too many. Facing jail time, they are saved by enigmatic billionaire Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), who believes he can teach them to use their skills for good. The plan begins to work, but it only unveils a deadlier threat.
Pierre Perifel’s directorial debut is a crowded mess of double crosses and film homages. Some are a bit obvious, but it’s hard to imagine many kids, or even younger parents, getting the nods to classics like Bullitt. Nonetheless, reveling in the mischief is effective in the same manner that made Despicable Me so enjoyable. This doesn’t scale the same heights, but is a refreshing change from a hero’s journey.
The cast are impressive, so much so that it might have been preferable to make this a live action movie. Rockwell is smooth as can be, with comparisons to be made with George Clooney in Ocean’s 11 (another movie that will predate most of the audience). His crew is comprised of the proven talents of Marc Maron (a safe cracking snake); Awkwafina (a tarantula hacker); Anthony Ramos (a piranha brought in for some muscle); and Craig Robinson, who plays a shark that specialises in disguises. Even if the plot moves slowly, the characters (and their voices) are strong enough to get by simply wisecracking the run-time away.
The Bad Guys won’t leave you exhilarated (although Ayoade’s voice is adorable coming out of a guinea pig). However, by putting the villains in the spotlight, it separates itself from the homogenous crowd of family fare.