Evaluating animated fare clearly aimed at small children is always a challenge. On the one hand, you want to grade a work like that on a curve, since the audience is far from film critics. At the same time, effective storytelling or execution needs to happen, regardless. In the case of The Bad Guys, you have the kind of animated flick that a little kid will almost certainly love. As for the adults? Well, that might be more of a mixed bag. The movie tries to have fun with some cinematic tropes that the older crowd will enjoy, but so much of this plays down to its viewers. Ultimately, it’s just not enough fun to fully recommend.
The Bad Guys wants to be a child-friendly introduction for younger viewers to the con artist/heist film. It’s mostly lip-service, but those are the parts that work. The heavy-handed messaging is simplistic even for the material, the character turns won’t surprises even the youngest child, and worst…it’s just not very funny. One particular recurring gag, involving how one of the bad guys repeatedly farts when nervous, is a real low point.
This adaptation of the book series by Aaron Blabey follows a group of anthropomorphic animal criminals, led by Mr. Wolf (voice of Sam Rockwell). Along with his crew, consisting of Mr. Snake (voice of Marc Maron), Ms. Tarantula (voice of Awkwafina), Mr. Shark (voice of Craig Robinson), and Mr. Piranha (voice of Anthony Ramos), Wolf is feared by the entire city. They pull off jobs with ease, loving their lives of crime. However, a job spurred on my Wolf’s desire to get one over on Governor Diane Foxington (voice of Zazie Beetz) results in their capture. Having experienced accidentally being good during the job, Wolf is all too eager to have his crew take up the offer of Professor Marmalade (voice of Richard Ayoade) to learn to go straight.
In order to avoid a prison sentence one that Police Chief Misty Luggins (voice of Alex Borstein) is all too eager to enforce, the group of animal outlaws must give it a shot. This proves to be their most challenging con yet, one that exhausts Professor Marmalade. However, while the crew wants to fool the world, there’s also a sense from Wolf that being good might be…good? Especially as he grows closer to Governor Foxington, a new leaf might be in the cards, though some twists and turns are inevitable.
The voice cast is pretty eclectic. Unfortunately, everyone is solid, but no one really stands out. If there’s an exception, it’s Marc Maron, who just has a particular voice that fits so well for a disgruntled animated character. Sam Rockwell is smooth, but it’s just like listening to any of his other smooth and fast-talking roles. Having the aforementioned Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Alex Borstein, Anthony Ramos, Craig Robinson, and more on hand but not doing more with them is a real shame. Other voice actors here include Lilly Singh, among others.
Director Pierre Perifel and writer Etan Cohen (Yoni Brenner and Hilary Winston also have writing credits) hint at a more fulfilling work. Visually, there’s some unique touches, though other elements come off blander than you’d wish. Mostly, you just want the script for The Bad Guys to be more clever than it is. Plus, running 100 minutes, it runs out of steam well before the credits roll. Especially for something like this, keeping it short and keeping it tight would have papered over some of the issues.
The Bad Guys is for kids. Technically, it’s for families, but adults may well struggle with this one. If you read these books as a kid, or have read them to your children, maybe it will hold a special appeal. Otherwise, it’s forgettable animation that doesn’t leave much of an impression. Given the material, this probably should have been better. Alas.