While I’ve never read any of Australian author Aaron Blabey’s books for kids, the animated trailer for Universal Pictures’ The Bad Guys was full of flashy characters and witty one-liners, drawing me into its flair. Watching the film provided an additional realization: there’s plenty of heart behind the Dreamworks animation of Mr. Wolf, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, and Mr. Shark.
In what seems a clear nod to Reservoir Dogs, the characters that make up the gang of thieves are simply named by their animal nature. [As an aside, the deep-running undercurrent of the film ultimately asks if any of us can really overcome our animal nature, but I’ll get to that later.] Voiced by Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina, Marc Maron, Anthony Ramos, and Craig Robinson, the characters show a different degree of indifference toward doing good and a strong set of skills in terms of doing bad, a la other crime films like Ocean’s Eleven.
While the Bad Guys have been wreaking havoc and driving the police crazy for years, Wolf meets his match in the foxy persona of the new mayor, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz). She’s willing to give the Bad Guys a second chance under the watchful eye of philanthropist Rupert Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a guinea pig who sells Foxington on the theory that the Bad Guys only need to practice doing good to become good. Hijinks ensue.
The direct-to-the-camera speaking, the clever blend of physical and verbal humor, and the incredibly articulated animations of the characters are all worth noting. I’ll admit that while I expected COVID-19 to send a wave of computer-animated films to market, not all of them have held my attention; The Bad Guys is the best animated story that I’ve seen in several years. But the the beautiful animation isn’t just eye-catching though: it advances the story’s heart – that no one is beyond redeemable.
Do you really believe a person can change? That’s at the heart of the film – and as people of faith, it’s something we say we believe in but too often fail to accept as true. Let’s face it: we’re judgy! We have a hierarchy of sin (either admittedly or subconsciously) and there are certain situations and certain people that we find unforgivable. That’s not what Jesus said – but it’s how we operate sometimes. That’s what makes The Bad Guys such a beautiful story, and what sets it apart from some of its contemporary films.
The Bad Guys is a laugh out-loud funny experience for the whole family, with fleshed out characters and a plot to match. Better yet, it might just challenge you to give yourself, or someone else, another chance.