Something that has lately been a strong value of mine is the harmful messages movies and television can subliminally send to audiences. Most people get into the habit of casually watching whatever they feel like, unaware of any racist, sexist, or ableist content within it that feeds them bad ideas. Nobody is more susceptible to those messages than children, which is why I argue filmmakers most of all need to be more cautious of the messages in anything with a PG or TV-Y7 rating. While DreamWorks Animation is stupendously known for being a hit-or-miss studio, this time around they managed to pull out a hit that can actually benefit a child’s development. The Bad Guys takes characters that by another animation studio such as Illumination would be horrible role models, but in these proper hands by DreamWorks become positive influences on children.
Don’t think though that it will make this movie a memorable gamechanger because, in plot and style of humor, it feels too similar to everything else DreamWorks Animation has made—not to mention it takes on some of the latest trends in animation to the point it’s no longer distinct. With its use of photographs made to look like 2D drawings, it merely copies what similar stylized computer-animated films such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs. the Machines have done. This also isn’t entirely perfect in designing positive role models, as there’s not enough punishment for the crimes committed by the lead gang of five carnivorous animals, including one other side character who commits all these heists and is never put in jail.
But hopefully, kids will be more focused on the central character, a wolf who’s aptly named “Wolf.” By the end of his story, he learns to become comfortable in his fur, which goes against the grain of classic fairy tales where wild canines like wolves and foxes are always the villain. Wolf at one point even wears sheep pajamas to show how he’s a liar- a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When you think about it, this handling of Wolf’s character reveals just how heartbreaking our time of trying to dispel stereotypes really is, seeing how frequently we fall short in our own prejudices of nonhuman cartoons. Even Wolf gets the privilege of enjoying a really sweet moment between himself and a kitty, which saves this production from chaos.
It may be as loud as a Saturday morning special on Nickelodeon, but the backgrounds and city skylines are so refreshingly bright with their splotches of paint that the parents will hardly need to go out and take a breather while watching this with their kids. It helps as well that there are nods to past adult films that should keep them smiling, including the opening scene, which is just like Pulp Fiction with it being a continuous shot without edit cuts on a casual conversation at a diner. Then right after that comes these fun car chases in the style of The Blues Brothers.
There’s quite a bit more remarkable content as well for the professional and aspiring animators; the eyes of the characters intentionally have no lighting or texturing, but glow brighter than anything else in the frame, almost like predatory animals peeking out from within the bushes. The special effects tricks are capable of creating 2D smoke and dust clouds, with lines drawn in on the computer graphics to resemble a comic book illustration. The models used to create the sets and props likewise fit the story’s core theme, as encapsulated by a meteorite shaped both like a heart and a butt, like the true nature behind the standard out-of-this-world concept of love. The focus on that theme plays itself out into a nice unpredictable ending designed to challenge the prejudice behind the human civilians in the background who would run in fear of these animal criminals.
In this society, however, things just don’t always work. There are moments when it seems to awkwardly squeeze in some social commentary by showing protestors outside an animal testing facility, but it doesn’t flow well into the main plot, and could likewise make some parents feel a bit uncomfortable. While committing one of their heists, the animal gang wears these funny disguises, and all the other humans fall for them, even though this gang is among the only anthropomorphic animals in the city. This is a constant practice among some of these gang members, as one of them, a shark literally named “Shark,” has stolen the Mona Lisa while disguised as Mona Lisa… because apparently, it works that way without any difficulties. The snake named “Snake” also at one point molts his skin on cue to rid of his disguise, which is so now how snakes work in real-life. Yeah, I know it's a cartoon and I’m supposed to suspend disbelief, but I can’t do that if this cartoon seems to be just making up the rules as it goes along. The concept of these characters being animals is indeed not handled quite well, as there are moments when Wolf’s tail wags uncontrollably when he’s flattered, and the other animals have their version of tail wagging, which honestly is just lame.
Furthermore, there are issues with the dialogue, as it doesn’t prioritize character or conflict while providing exposition, some of which aren’t even necessary. The introduction of these five leads is given by a fourth wall break narration, which comes off as pretty lazy. So the plot is familiar, at times in rather unpleasant ways, but still pulls off some solid entertainment that won’t be too objectionable for kids.
So it can be easy to conclude that this movie is a product of its theme: Even trash can be recycled into something beautiful. With all these vicious carnivorous beasts that sound so rough and tough, while evading a police chief who walks like an ape, there’s lots of sincerity. They may be animals, and they may be crooks, but they’re far more human than most live action heist movies made for adults.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!