By: Russ Matthews
In a world where humans and animals coexist, a legendary group of criminals collectively called ‘The Bad Guys’ roams the streets.
The diabolical team is led by pick-pocket Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell) with safe-cracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron) by his side. They are joined by the sharp-tongued hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), the master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) and the short-fused ‘muscle’ Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos).
Wolf is the brains of the outfit and has successfully led several heists with his team. His leadership has helped them attain legendary status due to the audacity of their crimes. He is always trying to be one step ahead of everyone else. The canine leader’s mind works like a seasoned chess player planning his moves ahead of time. When he and his team are caught stealing the golden dolphin, he is rattled for the first time when things do not work out exactly as he had planned.
This unlikely crew does their work until they are caught red-handed stealing the prized golden dolphin statue. An art piece that was due to be presented to the humanitarian Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) by Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) and Police Chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein). In an attempt to avoid jail time, Wolf tries to convince the Governor and Police Chief that his team is a product of people’s perceptions. Specifically, if people fear them as animals, what hope do they have of ever being good?
One compelling element in our modern era was the perceived ‘strengths’ and manipulative effects of social media are highlighted throughout the film. In one scene, a video is posted and the public perception of the Bad Guys starts to dramatically change. By the time the anti-heroes’ next public appearance at Marmalade’s award ceremony, they were seen as ‘good guys’ where everyone wanted to take selfies with them.
Professor Marmalade sees this as an opportunity to reform the group and convinces the authorities to give them one more chance. She is the consummate humanitarian who works to develop a series of challenges to encourage their behaviour to change. Yet, it is unlikely that the Bad Guys can become model citizens when they have been criminals all their lives. Can a leopard really change its spots?
This project is quite a departure from other DreamWorks films with an ambitious story similar to animated features like ‘Despicable Me’ and ‘Megamind.’ Still, this film is executed with stunning, stylistic and fast-paced animation reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven movies. The ensemble cast all have their own quirks, with mannerisms reinforcing their individual natures. It is complemented by a wealth of acting talent in the voice contributors who add a layer of depth to the characters, making them very convincing as anthropomorphic animals.
Based on the New York Times, best-selling book series by Australian author Aaron Blabey, the message is undeniable in true DreamWorks fashion. Are we indeed who we are or as others see us? A query that leads to a secondary thought-provoking nature versus nurture debate. This story benefits from a fantastic combination of slick animation and strong voiceover performances, making it clear that you should never judge a book by its cover.
Can people (or animated animals) change?
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
This is an ongoing debate that will plague people until the end of time. It has been at the heart of stories, novels, and films throughout human history. Psychologists and philosophers all have different arguments for and against the possibility of humans changing their ways. History does prove that it can be done. Still, we do see it repeating itself consistently year after year. So, where do you go to find concrete answers?
The words of the Bible do provide the answers that people seek. Yet, this historical text shows how desperately wicked humanity can be towards one another. It is essential to discover how hearts can be truly changed. By considering how we can move from bad to good. A feat that can not be done by sheer will or by following a 12 step program. The answer to this age-old question is found in the words, life and sacrifice of Jesus. This may seem simplistic, but it is an answer worth studying. If this is a question you need help answering, contact us at thirdspace.org.au or start reading the book of Romans.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
Russ’ Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
Article supplied with thanks to Reel Dialogue and City Bible Forum.
About the author: Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.