Wolf, voiced by Sam Rockwell, leads a criminal organization of anthropomorphic animals, safecracker Snake (Marc Maron), master of disguise Shark (Craig Robinson), an apex predator of a thousand faces, Piranha (Anthony Ramos), a loose cannon with a short fuse and eight-legged tech wizard Tarantula (Awkwafina), who use their frightening reputations to strike fear into the hearts of their victims.
“Do I wish people didn’t see us as monsters?” asks Wolf. “Sure I do, but these are the cards we were dealt so we might as well play them.”
The gang is riding after a particularly daring bank robbery, but the wind is taken out of their sails when Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) shames them during a press conference, calling them second rate hacks, driven by anger, not intelligence. “They have all the classic signs of a crew in decline,” she says.
Her televised insults push the Bad Guys to plan the ultimate heist, the theft of The Golden Dolfin, a priceless award given to philanthropists and do-gooders. This year it will be awarded to Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a hamster with a heart of gold.
When their heist goes sideways, the Professor Marmalade, from the goodness of his heart, makes a deal with the Bad Guys and the Governor. He will teach the reprobates to use the skills they developed being bad, to be good.
“Being good,” he says, “just feels so good and when you are good, you are loved.”
Question is, can these bad guys be rehabilitated, or is it time to take the “walking garbage” to the trash and lock them up forever?
Based on the New York Times best-selling graphic novel series by Australian author Aaron Blabey, “The Bad Guys” is kind of like “Ocean’s 11,” but for kids. The emotional undercurrents that Pixar weaves into their movies are missing, replaced with a snappy, stylish story that is more swagger than substance. The movie’s singular message—don’t judge a book by its cover—is a good one for kids, but it is hammered home with the subtly of a Don Rickles one liner. It’s a movie about not accepting stereotypes, that is ripe with stereotypes.
The animation is stylish, but not as sophisticated as we’ve come to expect from big screen offerings like this. Wolf’s fur is rudimentarily rendered and the overall look doesn’t have the zip of Pixar or other computer-generated films.
Having said all that, “The Bad Guys” succeeds through sheer strength of the characters and the humor in Etan Cohen and Hilary Winston’s witty script. There are silly characters kids will get a kick out of, like the flatulent piranha, coupled with jokes parents will appreciate.
Despite its shortcomings, in the end, “The Bad Guys” does good for the audience.