Movie Review: An “Ocean’s” caper for kiddies — “The Bad Guys”

“The Bad Guys” is a children’s version of a caper comedy, an “Ocean’s Eleven” featuring CUTE critters as criminals.

It’s got cartoonish car chases and “Impossible” heist missions. And thanks to droll, cool crook voice work by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Richard Ayoade , Awkwafina and Anthony Ramos, it’s kind of a stitch.

Lots of animated films go for big name actors to provide voices. But few figure out what this Dreamworks action comedy’s team did. Landing the right “funny” famous voice is all important.

That rule is underscored in the opening scene, just a couple of criminal lowlifes, the sharp-dressing, laid-back Wolf (Rockwell) and the grumpy, grousing Mr. Snake (Maron, the only actor to disguise his voice) banter, bicker and over Snake’s “taste for guinea pig”T and Wolf’s eye for the next reputation-making score.

“Big Bad” Wolf’s the mastermind, Snake is a “serpentine safe cracking machine,” Tarantula (Awkwafina) is their hacker/tech support, Shark (Robinson) is a “master of disguise” (Hah!), “apex predator of a thousand faces,” and Piranha (Ramos) is the gonzo wild card, the muscle.

Their motto?

“Go bad or go home.”

Wolf has a custom getaway car and they keep their loot in a subterranean lair. And there’s this Golden Dolphin with an emerald eye that’s the big prize for the best do-gooder in town. They aim to snatch that right from under the nose of foxy Mayor Foxington (Zazie Beetz) as she gives it to popular, wholesome, saintly guinea pig Professor Marmalade (Ayoade).

The message here — don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t let yourself be defined by stereotypes others impose on you. The villains of the animal kingdom maybe aren’t such “Bad Guys” after all.

All it takes is a “Who’s a good boy?” for Big Bad “Wolf” to wag his tail. But is their rehabilitation genuine?

“The Bad Guys become the Good Guys so we can stay Bad Guys!”

Rockwell’s way of playing every word on the backbeat makes even limp lines land. And veteran British funnyman Ayoade, who’s done lots of animation since breaking out in the sitcoms “The Mighty Boosh” and “The IT Guys,” induces giggles with every plummy, pedantic witticism to come out of his mouth.

The animation has a Tex Avery elasticity — exaggerated gestures, eyes bugging out, “Bugs Bunny Physics” and all that as a visual reinforcement of the bad guy banter laid over it.

Based on the children’s books by Aaron Blabey, the plot isn’t all that, but “The Bad Guys” sparkles to life when it’s at its most antic — frantic chases, capers going wrong or just heated, animated debates in the gang.

And Rockwell’s Big, ever-so-Bad Wolf? “WHO’S a good boy?”

Rating: PG, rude humor (fart jokes)

Cast: The voices of Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina, Zazie Beetz, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos and Marc Maron.

Credits: Directed by Pierre Perifel, scripted by Etan Cohen and Yani Brenner, based on the books by Aaron Blabey. A Dreamworks Animation film released by Universal.

Running time: 1:40

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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