Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Shark, Mr. Piranha, and Ms. Tarantula. Without hesitation, any cinephile will think you’re talking about Quentin Tarantino characters whose origins either come from Reservoir Dogs (1993) or Pulp Fiction (1994). In reality, these are the names of the characters from Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys book series that centers on the notoriously bad characters from lullabies, fiction, or nature in a quest to reform their image. In the book series, their quest is hilariously misguided as they’re often continuing to break laws in their effort to change the public’s perception. Adapted by Etan Cohen (Men in Black 3), the Pierre Perifel-directed The Bad Guys doesn’t stray so far from its source material as to lose its charm while making a clearer case for what being a “Good Guy” means. Whether you had a good time at the theater or have been waiting for the home release to go on this kid-centric heist, The Bad Guys is coming home with a whole host of bonus features and a brand-new short film which highlights just how much The Bad Guys have learned since their main adventure.
If you’d like to learn about The Bad Guys without spoilers, head immediately to the theatrical release review. Moving forward, details of heists, thefts, twists, and turns will be discussed.
If there’s a crime to be committed, the local police force looks no further than the infamous Bad Guys, a group of criminals made up of charismatic mastermind Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), safecracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), master of disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), brawler Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), and hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina). Taunted by Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), the five decide to rob the upcoming gala honoring philanthropist Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) and get caught in the process. Seeing a way out of their handcuffs, Mr. Wolf tricks Marmalade into convincing Police Chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein) into releasing The Bad Guys into Marmalade’s custody for reformation. Seems like an easy enough short con to gain their freedom, but Mr. Wolf doesn’t expect to actually start believing Marmalade’s lessons. What comes next puts The Bad Guys at a crossroads between becoming The Good Guys or going to jail forever.
In the featurette “Devise the Plan: Making The Bad Guys,” the obvious becomes clearly stated: the film entire is a riff on Tarantino’s narrative style. I’d argue that it’s a mix of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001) with Reservoir Dogs character identification/specialization and the locales of Pulp Fiction through a child’s lens. The important thing to note is not what I think it is, but the acknowledgement from the creators of the film of its intentionality as an homage and to concede that the film, of all the things it does, pulls it off exceedingly well. I’m not talking about the opening sequence which utilizes the famous Hawthorne Grill set from Pulp Fiction, though that’s incredibly on the nose, but the way in which morality is explored from start to finish. The Bad Guys, for all their faults, live by a code in support of one another. It’s not the shift from “bad” to “good” which reduces their bond, it’s the perceived breach of the code by Wolf when he decides on his own not to steal the Love Crater meteorite. This, by the way, is where the film takes on a Soderbergh/Ocean’s Eleven vibe as that film also uses a similar narrative beat which ends up being as much a trick on the audience as it is on the characters. The major difference being that Wolf makes the choice sincerely without conversing with the team, whereas Danny Ocean (George Clooney) only really shares details with his number two, Rusty (Brad Pitt), and the gang is aware of this and trusts them both. In The Bad Guys, Mr. Wolf might be the leader but he’s not the only decision maker in the group. They listen to each other, a valuable lesson for kids to pick up on, even if it’s buried within outrageous circumstances. By the by, my comparison to Danny Ocean isn’t just because of how the film reads to me, it’s mentioned in the bonus features that Mr. Wolf has two modes: George Clooney cool when in control and squirrel-like when not. Admittedly, my second favorite fact to learn is that the final animation style was inspired by French and Japanese animation, making the more dynamic and exciting character and production design standout from more traditional animated films of late. The breaking out of the typical helps The Bad Guys capture the heist/con energy of the films it drew inspiration from in a way that standard animation would not maintain as easily. Perhaps my third favorite thing to learn is that the heist that gets them caught wasn’t in the original script so they had to design it themselves, leading to an exploration of how to highlight the specific talents of The Bad Guys by developing the entire sequence as a live-action heist. Again, the execution is enhanced by adapting more dynamic artistic styles, infusing the whole film with a vibrant energy.
Delving more deeply into the bonus features, there’s a mixture of art-focused materials and production-focused materials. This means that folks interested in how Perifel created the look of the film, there are tidbits from various members of the animation team throughout the featurettes offering details, but there’s also a longer, deeper-dive by the head of story for the art department Nelson Yokota (How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World) providing a four-minute breakdown of the storyboarding process for the film before providing a nearly 12-minute tutorial instructing how to draw each of the five lead characters in detail. If art’s not your thing, there are three featurettes which explore the cast, their performances, and the development of the film. The best of the three is “It’s Showtime: Cast Table Read,” with just over five minutes of the cast gathering together to read the script over Zoom, providing just a glimpse of the energy they brought to the film. If this had been feature-length, I guarantee people would watch (I am people). The Bad Guys is a family film, so if you’re looking for artistic inspiration or perhaps some kind of summer play project, check out the two-part “Snake’s Frozen Pop Shop” as you’ll get recipes to make your own fruit-based frozen pops and then ideas to kick-off your own decorative cases for them.
One of the big selling points for the home release is the inclusion of a brand-new animated short titled “Maraschino Ruby.” The short, running not even four minutes with credits, is a fun ride that you’ll wish would be longer. Styled to be easy to follow whether you’ve seen the feature film, read the books, or not, “Maraschino Ruby” is a self-contained story in which Luggins tries, once more, to arrest The Bad Guys. Hilarity does ensue, but there’s none of the engaging thematic weight exploring what make’s someone good that runs through the film proper. This isn’t an issue, whereas other animation studio house Pixar manages to find ways to integrate lessons of morals or ethics into their shorts, “Maraschino Ruby” is simply a fun little excursion to enjoy.
If the above aren’t enough, there’s also a feature-length commentary track with director Pierre Perifel, producer Damon Ross, head of story Nelson Yokota, head of character animation JP Sans, and production designer Luc Desmarchelier that’ll give you all the tidbits and insights missing from the featurettes, as well as five deleted scenes (the last of which is heartbreaking and I’m glad they didn’t include it in the finished film).
The Bad Guys is a good time, no doubt about that. The heist, con, and action sequences are staged so beautifully that everything else feels like a drag until the next one comes around. This is a credit to the story and animation departments, though I imagine it’s more of a “me thing” that the in between moments, while engaging due to performances, leave me wanting for the cleverness of the other sequences. I am, however, aware enough of it to realize that this film isn’t made for me, it’s made for my eldest and his ilk. As of this writing, he’s already stolen access to my review copy to watch it on his own and I suspect it won’t be the last time that happens. So if you’re looking for something good, I guess you can’t go wrong with something Bad.
The Bad Guys Special Features:
- Feature Commentary with Director Pierre Perifel, Producer Damon Ross, Head of Story Nelson Yokota, Head of Character Animation JP Sans, and Production Designer Luc Desmarchelier. (1:40:07)
- “Maraschino Ruby” – all-new original short (3:50)
- Five (5) Deleted Scenes (10:53)
- Original opening
- Snake Attack
- Extra Secret Base Tour
- You Can’t Fake Good
- Post Credits: Scientist Button
- Devise the Plan: Making The Bad Guys (6:57)
- Assemble the Crew (6:46)
- It’s Showtime: Cast Table Read (5:51)
- Snake’s Frozen Pop Shop
- Frozen Pop Recipes (3:34)
- How-To Design Frozen Push-Pops (3:26)
- From the Drawing Room
- How to Storyboard (4:32)
- How to Draw (11:45)
Available on VOD and digital May 13th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD June 21st, 2022.
For more information, head to the official DreamWorks The Bad Guys website.