I went to the press screening of The Bad Guys with an expert — a local furry friend — and his assessment was generally positive. “I think this will be a well-received piece of furry media,” he nodded as the credits rolled. So that’s probably a relief for the filmmakers.
Unlikely to dethrone core furry works like Robin Hood and Zootopia, The Bad Guys is a fun playful heist with absolutely gorgeous animation, more Muppety jokes than contemporary Muppet movies, and a woefully undercooked interior. The strength of its moment-to-moment comedy is undone by its adherence to the for-some-reason-mandatory plot beat of “oh no the friends are mad at each other and are parting ways forever, lol just kidding they reconcile one or two scenes later.”
After twenty or so years, Pixar has worn that twist down to a nub, and it would be nice if Dreamworks tried something different instead of hollering “us too!” like they’re still striving to be Antz to A Bug’s Life. Oh well! Plot tedium notwithstanding, we still have a fine frolicsome caper film on our hands.
The adventure is set in a sort of faux-Los-Angeles (that is, a Los Angeles that’s even more faux than the one in our world) populated mostly by humans with a smattering of anthro animals, all of whom are main characters. Our anti-heroes are a fun-loving crime gang, notorious for knocking over banks and heisting jewels — a lifestyle they revel in because it is fun, but also because they were all born into scary bodies. A wolf, a tarantula, a snake, a shark, a piranha: At some point, they all did the calculation that if people are going to be scared of them, they might as well make the most of it. “We may be bad, but we’re so good at it,” one of them grins.
Their lives are complicated when a job goes wrong and they find themselves plunged into — of all things — a restorative justice program that seeks to reform them. But there are wheels within wheels, and various parties plot to out-scheme each other in a tangle of alliances and double-to-triple crosses. Comic mayhem, silly action, and jokes jokes jokes abound, nearly all of them satisfying. Particularly strong is the film’s obvious affection for ‘60s heist films, with gorgeously storyboarded action scenes and a wonderful mix of 3-D animation with hybrid 2-D techniques that more animated films ought to adopt.
Visuals aside, there’s an interesting question of causality underlying the proceedings. Have our main characters chosen to be bad because they’ve been persuaded to believe they’re bad? Has goodness and badness been thrust upon them by genetics? Or are they bad because they were denied so many opportunities by a bigoted world that this is the only life available to them? Why are they the only animals in a world full of humans? Aren’t the humans who assume the worst of them based on how they look like the real bad guys?
Or maybe these aren’t interesting questions at all, because the movie certainly doesn’t feel the need to linger on them. The priority is clear: Action, gags, and catchphrases. Let your brain go smooth — or furry — and you’ll have a fine time.