Movie Review: 'The Bad Guys' (2022)
The Bad Guys, a DreamWorks Animation film directed by Pierre Perifel, should be a slam dunk, right?
With a voice cast of personal favorites such as Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina and Craig Robinson? Full of anthropomorphic animal characters in a kid-friendly Tarantino take-off? And there's even a furry vixen in the mix? What, is it my birthday? (Actually, that's Saturday.) [Happy Birthday! --The editors]
Featuring a criminal gang of five predatory animals, meet Mr. Wolf (Rockwell), Mr. Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Miss Tarantula (Awkwafina), Mr. Shark (Robinson) and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos).
After a television interview with the local governor, a vixen named Diane Foxington, Mr. Wolf is goaded into carrying out a ridiculously difficult heist. Which correspondingly goes ridiculously wrong. The gang are put in the care of Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a guinea pig who tries to teach them how to be good guys.
The worldbuilding is just nonexistent, really. The five criminals, plus Foxington and Marmalade, are the only anthropomorphic animals we meet. All of the others are completely human, and there are lots of regular animals, including a large number of guinea pigs. Two of the gang are fish, and they are completely terrestrial. No explanation. However, in this movie's case, that's not really a bad thing! It's very clearly operating on a high level of absurdity.
Now, I will say that one awkward thing started me off on the wrong foot with this movie. When the first trailer came out, I wasn't actually that excited to see it. This feels weird to say, but it was the character of Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) that was killing the vibe for me. Obviously, I love my cartoon vixens. I mean, I still go out of my way to put a Cutest Vixen award in front of my year-end top ten list.
It was the design of her ears that threw me off. I'm guessing she's supposed to be a red fox, or maybe they were going for a fennec vibe with the ears? Between their large size, and the fact that her tail wasn't always visible, I honestly thought she was a ... rabbit. Seriously, during my daily search of the "fox" tag on e621, I was wondering where this new character was coming from. After I checked the image tags, I realized I'd misidentified her species. Very, very badly.
Don't get me wrong, now that I've seen the movie, it's fine! I liked the little detail that she had an eyebrow piercing. Not something you see in a lot of mainstream furry characters. I also liked her characterization. She's really mean to Mr. Wolf! It's great!
But to return to the film's absurd worldbuilding, it's revealed there had been a meteor strike a year earlier, which put a giant crater in the middle of the city. This is revealed via dialogue that veers into "Hey, remember the time that meteor struck the middle of the city?"-levels of near-banality. (Guess that puts the "Why didn't they mention 9/11 in Turning Red?" question in its place.)
But it works, because it's a genuinely funny detail, and it doesn't get meta or apologize for it. This film isn't forcing exposition at you; the way things are presented during the film makes it clear that underneath it all, the film is saying, "This is a world where some animals talk, some don't, and we'll throw in whatever else we want to, and you're just going to have to accept this." If you can roll with it, you'll be fine.
While the movie is technically a heist movie, it's more a ridiculous parody of one. I'm not going to go into the details of the plot, because it's basically four different factions trying to con each other to pull off one heist after another; and spoilers are both unavoidable and also rude. Obviously, there are twists. However, it's also kind of a baby's first heist movie, really. If you've actually seen a real heist movie (and any trailer for this one), you should be able to see every twist coming. I don't know, maybe what Mr. Snake's doing might be unclear for a little while, but even then, it's more about why rather than what he's doing.
Aesthetically, DreamWorks is trying an artstyle that was very sucessfully used in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The animated characters are computer-generated, but visually they're occasionally designed to appear flatter, to give the illusion of hand-drawn animation. The Bad Guys is still more three-dimensional than Spider-Verse, with its "flatter" elements mainly used for facial features, and to replace what I'd call "particle effects" (if this was a video game). It's a bit trendy. While Spider-Verse used that look to create a comic-book aesthetic, The Bad Guys doesn't seem to be trying to do that with its visuals. Even though the film is actually based on a comic. But it does feel a bit like the "cel-shading" craze in video games back in the 2000s. Still, reminding furries of Sly Cooper is hardly detrimental.
Thematically, well, it's familiar. At one point, Mr. Wolf explains to Miss Foxington that it's hard for him to not be a bad guy, and that she doesn't understand what it's like being a wolf, since everybody thinks wolves are bad. She gives him a look that is superbly animated, and clearly says "Did you just give me, a fox, the Nick Wilde speech?"
I actually really like her. But I'm still getting rabbit vibes.
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a red fox
New teeth. That's weird.
The director talks a bit about his visual inspirations and outlook in a recent Polygon article.
"Paperman" is a decade old. Like, it won an Oscar, why did it take a decade for people to get on this?
Probably because CGI animation takes a long ass time to do/get correct and is reliant on technical advances, Disney tends to be proprietary with their shit and studios couldn't really go loose with 2D/3D merging until Spider-Verse came out and kicked the door open?
also fuck da Oscars. Y'all saw what they said about animation this year. LOL
Clarification that I am using "won an Oscar" to mean "not obscure", rather than "automatically good". Though "Paperman" is ... okay to good. Kind of boring, now that I actually think about it. But pretty!
Though I'm kind of hard on the 2D/3D look as being trendy for the sake of being trendy rather than having an actual reason, really, the Puss in Boots sequel using it bothers me a lot more. It's an established franchise that already has a look; doing a trendy stylization there that we may all get tired of in a few years will age worse.
There are good trends and bad trends. Usually good trends are organic while bad ones tend to be forced.
I don't see the 2D animation flourishes in 3D animation as a bad thing, or as a fleeting trend. Where as something like the 3D film of Avatar was quite obviously a gimmick trend that couldn't last. Too bad the people voting in the Ursas that year didn't see past the short-term trend, as the Fantastic Mr. Fox is now more revered over a decade later.
Ironically, given as how the sequel is apparently probably actually coming out this year ... this comment might not age well.
Depends on how it does opening weekend. It may age perfectly.
I've remembered why I'm a bit less excited about the 2D/CGI hybrid look than most; I've seen it when it goes bad. Very bad. Three words; Godzilla anime trilogy. I actually only got through the first one and about 20 minutes of the second. Even setting aside the poor visual aesthetic choices, I mean, for anyone who complained the 2014 Godzilla featured not enough Godzilla and too much boring humans, well, do I have a movie not for you!
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