'The Bad Guys' captures old school cool with a heist comedy you can share with the family

A still from THE BAD GUYS, a DreamWorks Production

A merry band of petty criminals tries to turn over a new leaf in The Bad Guys, a big and bold animated heist adventure about loyalty, chosen family, and second chances. Based on an award-winning graphic novel hybrid series by Australian author Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys is directed by Pierre Perifel (Kung Fu Panda 2), with screenplay by Etan Cohen (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa). From start to finish, this family film from DreamWorks entertains with visual and verbal humor, clever homages to crime films galore, and the lively vocal performances of the cast.

Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell) acts as criminal mastermind and den dad to his band of misfits: the grumpy but skilled safe cracker, Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), the muscle with a flatulence problem when he lies, Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), the disguise artist with a hankering for push pops, Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and technology hacker, Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina). The group seamlessly pulls off a fruitful bank heist after a Tarantino-esque diner scene without a hitch, despite the efforts of Police Chief Luggins (Alex Borstein), who dreams of the day when she will catch them in the act of crime. In truth, these miscreants carry no special malevolence towards their community, but no one ever gave them a chance to be anything but bad. They might as well lean into the label – as long as they have each other.

A still from THE BAD GUYS, a DreamWorks Production
But when the group overhears Governor Foxington (Zazie Beetz) insult them on-air, they decide to get revenge and steal the Golden Dolphin, a humanitarian award being bestowed upon Professor Marmalade (a hilarious Richard Ayoade) at a town soiree. Things go sideways, and the group gets caught. It seems Chief Luggins will have her way until Professor Marmalade suggests a trial period, where he will try to convert the criminals into good guys. Mr. Wolf talks the group into going along with the scheme, suggesting they double cross the town until they can escape. But there's one complication: Mr. Wolf gets a taste of being a good guy and begins to want to change for real.

Mr. Wolf and his friends are the most charming unit of crooks since the Ocean's films by Soderbergh. You will be rooting for this tight-knight clan as they scheme the town, even as they begin to feel like they belong for the first time. This movie has it all: a cuddly cat, out-of-control guinea pigs, a rocking dance number, and characters which evolve in a believable and delightful manner. The voice talent nails their parts and ingratiates us to the loveable lawbreakers with wordplay and wisecracks. The group plays off each other well, an endeavor aided by having some of the cast record their lines together in the studio.

A still from THE BAD GUYS, a DreamWorks Production

Top-notch animation diverts from the unusual CG methodology and combines 2D and 3D animation into a unique style that pays homage to the films of Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, and Steven Sodererbergh, along with Japanese anime. The animation team captures the old school cool L.A. look that lends The Bad Guys some major swagger. From the adrenaline-packed title sequence to the slick wardrobe of the delinquents, The Bad Guys have style! They even have a sweet getaway vehicle that car enthusiasts will dig.

Perifel and Cohen keep things lively with schemes, misdirection, and secret identities. Mr. Wolf and Co. aren't the only ones with hidden agendas, and the well-paced story kept me engaged until the end with its twists and turns, despite making use of every trope in the book. The Bad Guys would make a fun theatrical outing for the family, but will stream at home soon enough.

Release info: April 22, 2022 in theaters; on Peacock June 6, 2022; and later in the year, on Netflix.

Final score: 4 out of 5