The Bad Guys (2022)

Genres - Adventure, Children's/Family, Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Comedy, Family-Oriented Adventure, Family-Oriented Comedy  |   Release Date - Apr 22, 2022 (USA)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Celeste Willis

The Bad Guys is based on the fanciful book series of the same name by Aaron Blabey. Blabey is known for three highly successful children's book series, including the graphic novel installments of The Bad Guys. The movie version of the series is directed by French filmmaker and animator Pierre Perifel. Led by a truly all-star voice cast, The Bad Guys is a visual delight and fantastic family film.

The film opens with the protagonist, Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) and his main partner, Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), eating at a diner. It's Snake's birthday, but he doesn't want Wolf to make a fuss. The pair then pull off a bank robbery with incredible ease, mostly because all of the humans in the film are absolutely terrified by the sight of the villainous animals.

Wolf then breaks the fourth wall to introduce himself and his crew of bad guys to the audience. He invites the viewer to get closer to him, but the camera doesn't move. Wolf claims that's because the audience is scared of him and his group-they're animals often associated with bad or evil things. Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake are joined by Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), Mr. Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos of Hamilton), and Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina).

The crew is happy-ish, celebrating a grouchy Snake's birthday, until the new governor, Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz of Atlanta) laments the state of the Bad Guys. She explains to a reporter at the scene of the robbery that the five animals must be hurting on the inside to outwardly commit such heinous crimes. She calls them out as insecure and sad. Wolf is clearly moved by the fox's speech and decides the gang needs to steal something important to her, the Golden Dolphin award, which will be presented to the best good Samaritan, an adorable guinea pig named Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade).

Snake warns Wolf not to make it personal-that road leads to destruction. But Wolf is able to sway snake by offering the cute guinea pig, Snake's favorite food, as a prize. The pack quickly assembles a plan, à la Ocean's Eleven. The point of crisis for the leader, Wolf, comes early on when he is forced to help down the stairs an old woman whom he had intended to purse snatch. Once she pats him and calls him a "good boy," Wolf's tail starts wagging involuntarily, and he spends the rest of the film trying to recapture that feeling of being good.

Though his crew is resistant to change, and the population seems resistant to change their opinion of the bad guys, Wolf refuses to be known only as a criminal. The pack's nemesis, chief police officer Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein), is the least willing to accept that the criminals have mended their ways. It'll take a lot more than saving a cat stuck in a tree or simply not robbing everyone to change the way everyone sees them, and more importantly, how they see themselves.

With a lot of double-crosses, mysterious identity reveals, and a powerful meteorite, the bad guys are finally able to prove they're more than just a bunch of scary animals from children's books. They're capable of change and growth, so that by the end of the movie when Mr. Wolf tells the audience to get closer, the camera goes in tight, right up to the former criminal's face. Wolf's best friend, Mr. Snake, had been right. Making things personal brings destruction. For the bad guys, that meant the destruction of their self-perceptions and all they thought they were. In its place, all five animals are now reborn.