The Bad Guys Review: DreamWorks Cracks the Code

Anthropomorphic animated animals are all the rage these days when it comes to family-friendly entertainment. With the sequel to the massively popular Sing franchise premiering last winter, The Bad Guys is Universal Picture’s next venture into filling this niche genre that they’ve got the market made in. Sorry, Disney, but this is Universal’s rodeo now.

Sam Rockwell stars as the voice of Mr. Wolf, a cunning pickpocket and leader of a team of “bad guys,” who do bad things like steal stuff, evade the police, and celebrate each other’s birthdays. The team of elite criminal ne’er-do-wells is rounded out by the slick safecracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), the master of disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), the too-smart hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), and the odiferous tooter Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos). Unsurprisingly the cheese is cut within the first ten minutes of the film and the jokes hardly stop there. It’s eye-roll inducing for the adults watching but bound to amuse its younger audience.

I am convinced that the pitch for this film was “Let’s do Ocean’s Eleven, but make it appeal to the furries” and honestly, it kind of works. On the Ocean’s Eleven front, that is. The jury’s still out on whether or not there has been enough time between Sonic 2 and this one to recharge the non-family-centric audience goers. Etan Cohen’s screenplay is remarkably good, considering he was also the scribe behind the Will Ferrell flop Holmes and Watson a few years back. The fact that it works so well is likely due to the deft directorial oversight of Pierre Perifel and the fact that Aaron Blabey’s graphic novels, which the film is an adaptation of, lay the groundwork for its success.

Contrary to what the title may imply, the bad guys aren’t actually this league of criminals, but rather an adorable, pintsized mastermind that could easily give Dr. Evil a run for his money. Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) is a charmingly disarming guinea pig who spends his time doing philanthropy, earning favor with Governor Foxington (Zazie Beetz), and plotting to take over the city. He has the entire city wrapped around his finger and he almost manages to get “the bad guys” under his thumb too, but Mr. Wolf sniffs out the rat, er, guinea pig in almost enough time to save the day.

Professor Marmalade capitalizes on the team’s unique skills, using them to further his own nefarious plans under the guise of helping them rehabilitate their image. This tests not only their mettle but also their loyalty to one another. At certain points, the film makes you fear the worst, as friendships are put to the test and trust is seemingly betrayed.

Naturally, because The Bad Guys is meant to appeal to the adults being dragged to the theaters by the children in their lives, there is an extremely minor romance plot that pairs off the two canines in the film—Mr. Wolf and Governor Foxington. While the pair could not be more different on the surface, with Mr. Wolf on the lam and Foxington’s political pursuits, the duo are actually more alike than one might expect.

While it isn’t the best example of a character arc, Mr. Wolf does go on a fairly impressive emotional journey throughout the film, examining what it means to be a “bad guy” and whether he wants to make a change and become a “good guy” instead. There are even some great little comments about redemption arcs, which more stories should take note of. The morally dubious characters still pay for their actions, but they also get to change and find a sort-of happy ending in the end, while the true villain faces public scrutiny. The Bad Guys checks the right boxes for teaching a vague moral lesson to its young audiences, while still paying homage to the more adult fare that it has been influenced by. From Ocean’s Eleven to Pulp Fiction to Reservoir Dogs—it’s all there.

With an ongoing graphic novel series as its inspiration, The Bad Guys has the potential to spawn an entirely new franchise for Universal, if the ongoing pandemic doesn’t hamper moviegoers.

The Bad Guys is in theaters now. 

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

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Maggie Lovitt is the Managing Editor of Entertainment at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery. She is also a freelance writer and News Editor at Collider. She has had bylines at Inverse, Polygon, and Dorkside of the Force. She is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association.

When she is not covering entertainment news, she can be found on one of her numerous podcasts or on her YouTube channel. In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.