The Daily Stream: The Bad Guys Dares To Try Something Different

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "The Bad Guys"

Where You Can Stream It: Peacock

The Pitch: What if "Ocean's Eleven" starred Sam Rockwell instead of George Clooney as Danny Ocean? Better yet, what if Danny Ocean and his crew were anthropomorphic animals in an animated universe that crosses "Zootopia" with the "Grand Theft Auto" version of Los Angeles (but with a tone that's closer to "Looney Tunes")? And what if the whole thing was a zippy heist comedy that's quietly about the need for criminal justice reform and giving second chances to those who've been stereotyped by society their entire lives? 

Add it all up, and what do you have? First-time feature film director Pierre Perifel's "The Bad Guys," a loose adaptation of Aaron Blabey's children's book series and a welcome reprieve from DreamWorks Animation's assembly line of franchise movies over the last several years.

Why it's essential viewing

Like "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" and "The Mitchells vs. the Machines," "The Bad Guys" dares to deviate from the generic look for computer-animated movies that's emerged over the last two decades. It's also the first non-sequel DreamWorks Animation has made since 2017 (not counting "Abominable," which was a Pearl Studio co-production) and finds the studio back in the affably zany, anarchic, and even juvenile mode of films like "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie."

Pierre Perifel and his creative team aren't shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves in "The Bad Guys," starting with a Tarantino-style one-take opening scene in which a pair of crooks banter in a diner right before a job. The film only doubles-down on the heist genre motifs from there, pairing split screens and montages with Daniel Pemberton's hip jazzy score. Then there's its use of 2D textures and sound effect graphics à la "Spider-Verse," only with European comic books providing the bulk of inspiration (think "The Adventures of Tintin" and the collective work of Mœbius). These elements give "The Bad Guys" a distinct flavor, even when you can readily identify the sources of its inspiration.

The film's plot centers on the titular animal crime gang led by Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), a thief who's so cool-headed he casually breaks the fourth wall mid-heist. While the movie goes so far as to lamp-shade his parallels to George Clooney's Danny Ocean, Mr. Wolf hews closer to the effortlessly cool weirdos Rockwell has portrayed time and time over in live-action. The actor's knack for playing vulnerable, wounded types also serves the movie well as Mr. Wolf carries out his greatest plan yet by pretending to go legit, only to find himself sincerely yearning to turn over a new leaf.

Playing the cards you've been dealt

"Do I wish people didn't see us as monsters? Sure, I do. But these are the cards we've been dealt, so we might as well play 'em," Mr. Wolf says early on in "The Bad Guys." It's a line that speaks to the movie's themes about prejudice and the way it goes about skewering the police by portraying them as a bunch of hot-tempered goose-steppers who see everyone and everything in shades of black and white. The film lacks the intricate world-building of "Zootopia" (for some reason, in this universe, guinea pigs are both used in research labs and respected citizens like Richard Ayoade's philanthropic Rupert Marmalade IV), but it also doesn't have the mixed metaphors and copaganda that trip up that movie's attempts at social commentary. In the end, its slick, carefree surface is the sugar that helps the medicine go down easier.

If "The Bad Guys" is preaching anything, it's to try doing things differently and find out what happens. It's a message DreamWorks Animation might well be taking to heart, judging by this movie and the upcoming "Spider-Verse"-style sequel, "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish." Whether it ends up ushering in a renaissance at the studio or not (best to not get too far ahead of ourselves), "The Bad Guys" is a surprisingly satisfying, adventurous DreamWorks offering that establishes Pierre Perifel as a director to watch out for in the future.