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Review: ‘The Bad Guys’ is a charming crowdpleaser for kids and adults alike

The latest film from DreamWorks Animation, “The Bad Guys,” has a few reasons to boast – namely its varied and diverse voice cast, a light, breezy pace, and one grumpy snake who steals the whole show.

After working his way up the industry ladder as an animator for other DreamWorks animated properties and shorts, director Pierre Perifel is making his feature length directorial debut with the animated crime-comedy about a crew of criminal animals looking for redemption.

Perifel has a keen eye for knowing when to make certain stylistic choices within the narrative, which helps make “The Bad Guys” compelling and visually stunning. While there certainly isn’t any new ground being broken in the animation department, the talent and craft is on full display here.

Awkwafina as Ms. Tarantula, Craig Robinson as Mr. Shark, Anthony Ramos as Mr. Piranha, Sam Rockwell as Mr. Wolf and Marc Maron as Mr. Snake in “The Bad Guys.” (DreamWorks Animation)

The film focuses on a group of animal crooks known as The Bad Guys – all animals who typically get a bad rap, like wolves, sharks and spiders. The crew is led by stellar performances from Sam Rockwell (Mr. Wolf), Marc Maron (Mr. Snake), Awkwafina (Ms. Tarantula), Craig Robinson (Mr. Shark), and Anthony Ramos (Mr. Piranha), as well as Zazie Beats and Richard Ayoade in supporting roles.

If it wasn’t clear already by the cast’s animal counterparts, the core message within the film is one we’ve all heard before: “Never judge a book by its cover.” Right off the bat, even though these animals may be traditionally associated with fear and danger, our group of anti-heroes go on a journey of self discovery to find out if they can break good.

Marc Maron as Mr. Snake and Sam Rockwell as Mr. Wolf in “The Bad Guys.” (DreamWorks Animation)

The antics of the crew throughout various heists and the humor of the layered inner-workings of their group dynamics are where “The Bad Guys” really succeeds, as the film sets up payoffs for the twists and turns from the get-go. Rockwell and Maron are the core duo and really work well off of one another – Rockwell with a “Clooney-esque” charm and Maron turning his grumpy schtick up to 11 make for the perfect odd couple. Throw in the always reliable Awkwafina and Robinson to add some levity and depth to the crew and it’s nearly irresistible not to root for the bad guys.

As the story unfolds and the crew begin to realize that maybe they don’t have to conform to societies expectations of “bad guys,” the strong message about personal choice shines with just enough earnestness to avoid being cliché.

With this caliber of animation, a director at the top of his craft, enough references for the adults to have fun, and a powerful message for the kids, well, then that sounds like a great family night out.

Star Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“The Bad Guys” releases in theaters April 22, 2022.

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Joel Winstead View All

Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA

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