The Bad Guys

This cute cartoon has a Tarantino and Soderbergh style.

“The Bad Guys” begins with a “Pulp Fiction” inspired diner scene when Mr. Snake tells Mr. Wolf he hates birthdays, and claims he can taste air. And as they leave the place, we see all the humans being frightened by their appearances, like all the good video game characters at the beginning of “Wreck-it Ralph.” Quentin Tarantino would have enjoyed this moment.

But I’m more surprised with how much the latest feature from Dreamworks Animation seems to be a big fan of Steven Soderbergh, whose crime capers from the “Ocean’s Eleven” films to “Logan Lucky” are ingenious and witty. Yes, there has to be a running gag when Mr. Piranha farts when he’s nervous, and parts of the story seem obvious, but I’m still cringing at how the Will Ferrell comedy “The House” knew nothing about the director’s work, and had to make stupid choices. “The Bad Guys” makes smarter choices than that comedy bomb, and knows how to take the money and how to bamboozle the villain.

You know when it wants to be “Despicable Me,” “Megamind,” and “Wreck-it Ralph” when the bad guys want to be good, and have to deal with a villain. You also know when it wants be “Zootopia” when it features creatures who succumb to the stereotypes because of how society misunderstands them. You know it wants to be “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” and “The Peanuts Movie,” when it sneaks traditional animation in the CGI world. And you also know it wants to be “Shrek” when the studio borrows the premise from a book by Aaron Blabey. I guess it’s true what they said on “The Simpsons,” “Animation is built on plagiarism.” It’s fun for kids and adults.

The bad guys consist of the pickpocket leader Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), the safecracker Mr. Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), the hacker Ms. Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina), the master of disguise Mr. Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson), and the short fuse Mr. Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos). To stay out of prison, Mr. Wolf manages to convince the newly elected governor Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz) and the guinea pig philanthropist Professor Marmalade (voiced by Richard Ayoade) to give them a chance to be good. That way when they convince society they’ve changed, they can still pull off their heists without any accusations.

“The Bad Guys” isn’t as deep as some of the best animated films of recent memory, but it’s as stylish, energetic, and good-natured as them. It wants to be mean-spirited, but it also has a conscience that wants it to have a good side. It does. It cares about these thieves. Probably an obvious thing to mention since they’re the main characters, but they have their moments.

Rockwell and Maron both have attitude and style; Beetz adds a charming voice acting debut to her resume (“Deadpool 2,” “Joker,” “The Harder They Fall”); Ayoade’s animation voice is starting to recognizable (from “The Boxtrolls” to “Soul”), but he’s still fun; and Robinson, Awkwafina, Ramos, and Alex Borstein (as the hot-tempered chief of police) all have versatility. I like listening to A-list actors, who know how to voice cartoon characters without being so random or tedious. These stars are spontaneous.

The look and charisma of the movie is entertaining with its own blend of Tarantino and Soderbergh, but made for a different target audience. Obviously, little kids wouldn’t get the references, but their parents would. Speaking of which, some commenters complained about how the delightful Pixar film “Turning Red” would leave little kids confused about its tampon innuendos. I, myself, was confused about what audience I should recommend it to, but then again, I have no idea what kids are into today. Some of them watch “South Park,” and some of them come from bad environments. I mean no disrespect, but I try my best to help them find some good and smart cartoons that even their parents can enjoy as well.

For the older kids, “Turning Red” is a masterpiece. For kids of all ages, “The Bad Guys” is a lot of fun.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Theaters This Friday

Categories: Action, Animation, comedy, Crime, Family

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