The Other Side of Animation 261: The Bad Guys Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


Subjectively speaking, 2021 was not the best year for DreamWorks. Neither films from the major studio weren’t as critically acclaimed or as well-liked as their previous efforts in 2019 and 2020. Spirit Untamed was a harmless, but boring affair that had a very limited audience appeal, and The Boss Baby: Family Business had the franchise’s slick cartoony animation, but it fell flat in the story department. DreamWorks has the obvious talent and power to craft great or entertaining stories, but it all depends on exactly what they are releasing in that year. What got a lot of people excited was their 2022 output of The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. They looked to be offering something different than their usual films, and that’s always cool to see studios go off the beaten path to try something different, whether it be in the story department or the art direction and animation. Relying on franchise films will lead to burnout, and when filmgoers want to see something new that they haven’t seen before or something familiar with a new twist, and that’s where The Bad Guys comes into play. 

It was directed by Pierre Perifel, who was one of the three directors behind the DreamWorks short Bilby. The story follows a group of thieves known as the titular Bad Guys. These include Mr. Wolf, voiced by Sam Rockwell, Mr. Snake, voiced by Marc Marron, Ms. Tarantula, voiced by Awkwafina, Mr. Shark voiced by Craig Robinson, and Mr. Piranha, voiced by Anthony Ramos. While they get the slickest moves, the best car chases, and are constantly avoiding the obsessed hands of the police chief Misty Luggins, voiced by Alex Borstein, they run into a different problem after their most recent heist. You see, the newly elected governor Diane Foxington, voiced by Zazie Beets, calls them out for being on the way out, in terms of their skills and talents. They decide to prove her wrong by attempting to steal a trophy at a charity gala meant for a philanthropist named Professor Rupert Marmalade IV, voiced by Richard Ayoade. The heist goes belly-up, and they get caught by the police. That is, until Marmalade offers our thieves an opportunity to go good, and the crew decides to make another heist to pretend to go good in order to get back at Marmalade and Diane Foxington. However, after Mr. Wolf gets the magic touch of how it feels to be considered a good guy, can he keep his promise to his friends? Will the Bad Guys go good? What other schemes may come bubbling to the top? 

So, for those that may or may not have seen the film yet, this is more of an action heist comedy. Apparently, there were some people comparing it to  2016’s Zootopia, due to how the leads are discriminated against and how there are underlying themes of some situations forcing certain individuals down that route due to how society treats them. Y’all gotta know right here and now that this is mostly a fun ride, first and foremost. Not to say there aren’t any takeaways to how you can interpret the themes of this film, but don’t come in thinking this is going to try and be a film with a goal to be this complex methodical thinkpiece. It’s a film that’s here to tell a rock-solid story with some great action, thrilling heists, and knee-slapping comedy. While I have yet to read any of the acclaimed graphic novels upon which this film is based, a lot of the vibes and animation details that are shown throughout the film give off vibes and homages to the acclaimed franchise, Lupin III. The way Mr. Wolf runs, the shoes that he wears, and how determined Luggins is to capture our anti-heroes give off very similar feels to Detective Zenigata, and that’s helped with a rather eccentric script and character dynamics. When we get these heist films or shows, some characters tend to be left in the dust or feel undercooked, but the dynamic between our five leads brings a refreshing zest to the overarching story, as you feel connected and invested with redemption arcs. While Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake do take up a lot of the more emotional story beats of the film, their friendship feels like there is a ton of history between the two. They carry the movie’s story, but luckily, everyone else is just as fun to watch on screen as Wolf and Snake. Diane is an extremely endearing and charming individual who is not played as some damsel in distress or buzzkill to the “boys club” vibe of the gang. She ends up being on the same level as the crew, consistently lively, and a blast to watch as her story unfolds as the film goes on. It might not have the most mind-blowing plot twists, and you could probably tell where some of the story beats are going, but this would be a great film to introduce the action heist genre to budding film fans.

Animation-wise, this was the first thing people reacted to when they saw the trailer back in December 2021. We were given another animated film with a stylish and fresh approach to CGI that gave everything a more painted cartoonish look. Hearing how the director said this is where most animation should be heading is a good sign, due to how some projects and people think having super hyper-realistic CGI is the pinnacle, but we aren’t even done with experimenting with CGI animation and animation in general. The fact this film has such expressive CGI with 2D details and vfx composited onto the CGI makes for one of the more visually stunning films of 2022. It might not have the same visual style as the graphic novels, but the fact we are living in a world right now where studios are now shifting towards doing stylized CGI with 2D flourishes is a trend everyone’s rooting for. It gives the film a much more distinct personality. It wears its anime influences on its sleeves, and that’s all fine with me. The more we can mix and match references and inspirations of different forms of animation, the more animation will keep evolving. Also, for a heist action film, the action is flashy, energized, and crisp. It’s readily readable and satisfying to watch. That first car chase, while mentioned in the film itself as the best part, is one of the best parts of the movie. The voice cast is also great, and that helps when you choose actors who can do more than just be themselves. Sam Rockwell is perfect to play a guy with both smarm and charm. Marc Maron is great as Snake who may seem grumpy, but secretly has a heart of gold. Richard Ayoade might not reinvent the wheel with his character professor Marmalade, but he sure is having fun with the role as well. Awkwafina might be the most like her normal self as Ms Tarantula, but she still is fun as the character. Craig Robinson is adorable and hilarious as Mr Shark. Anthony Raimos was a scene stealer and he has some of the best expressive animation out of many of the characters, and that’s saying something because everyone fits their role, and the animation is strong across the board. 

The thing is, there might not be too many unique or intensely distinct moments that make it super original, but as we have said before, sometimes being well-executed is more important than trying to push to be 100% original. FIrst off, nothing is original anymore, and there seems to be this trend of people who so want nothing but original content that they are ignorantly and willing to overlook stuff that’s just well made. The world of film will always be full of creative new takes on familiar ideas and stunningly distinct original ideas. One or the other isn’t going anywhere, and for people to say that Hollywood is dead are way too lost in their own pretension to give a film like The Bad Guys a shot. Yes, you can tell where the story is going, yes, they don’t explain why there are so few characters in the world that are humanoid animals, but honestly? Who cares? We live in a world where people want every little thing explained to them and don’t think about just getting engrossed in the film that they are seeing, instead of what the individual viewers wanted to see. You need to sit back, relax, and enjoy an experience that’s offered to you and not what you wanted it to be. 

If you can pull your head out of pretentious snob territory, The Bad Guys is a wild ride of thrills, chills, and delights. It’s easily the most fun film DreamWorks has made. It might not have the emotional complexity and or depth that you would see in a film from overseas, but not every film needs to be a Pixar or a Children of the Sea. It’s doing well in theaters right now, and if you feel safe going to theaters, definitely go watch this film. You absolutely do not need to go see something like Fantastic Beasts 3. Here’s hoping that DreamWorks keeps going this route of stylized animation and have a blast writing their stories. We need more studios like Sony Pictures Animation and DreamWorks to show that we don’t need to make CGI fare the same way anymore. We have hit the ceiling for hyper-realistic CGI. We need to go down the road of stylized CGI. Now then, next time, we will be talking about Pompo the Cinephile

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 183: Trolls World Tour Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

So, we live in a film industry where if your animated movie is a major hit, you, as a studio, will make a TV series, or, at the very least, a sequel. Normally, this sometimes comes off as short-sighted, because depending on how successful it is, you have to take in the context surrounding the film on release. Sometimes, the film was just that good, and sometimes, it was released during a time where there was a lack of competition. From films like The Nut Job 2 to The Secret Life of Pets 2, sometimes, the franchise isn’t strong enough to get people back into the theater to see the next film. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t get good sequels. We get plenty of sequels that are as good as the original or surpass them in a few ways. One of those examples is the sequel to Trolls, Trolls: World Tour.

Directed by Walt Dohrn, this sequel to the 2016 DreamWorks Animation surprise hit is mostly in the news right now for being the first major animated film of 2020 to go directly to digital and on-demand. Onward doesn’t count, since it got a theatrical release. So far, as of writing this, it is getting mostly positive reviews, and from what rental and digital purchase services are saying, it’s doing pretty well financially. So, what do I personally think about this musical sequel? Do I find it superior to the original, or is this another sequel that got greenlit too quickly?

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Our story revolves around our leads from the last film, Queen Poppy, voiced by Anna Kendrick, and Branch, voiced by Justin Timberlake. They find out from Poppy’s dad that there are different kinds of musical races of trolls. These include country, funk, techno, classical, and rock. Sadly, the rock troll, Queen Barb, voiced by Rachel Bloom, is trying to get the six magical strings and rule the world. Can Branch and Poppy find the queen of rock and roll and stop her ways?

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Now, on the surface, and to an extent, this film looks like a lot of the same brightly colored family entertainment, but just like the previous film, there is more under the felt-like look of the world. So, the first film tackled themes about happiness, what does World Tour tackle? Well, for something based on a bunch of rainbow-colored hairy troll dolls, this film deals with themes of colonialism, LGBT elements, cultural appropriation, and plenty of commentary about pop music as a whole. Yeah, for a film that looks so candy-coated sweet, you wouldn’t expect that there would be themes this mature, and yet, here they are. Much of the dialogue in the film gives off these vibes, and the twist in the film also reinforces these topics. It leads to the film running into the same situation as WB’s Smallfoot, where it’s a comedy to a degree, and they do keep a lot of the weird trippy visuals and jokes, but it’s more story-focused. They like focusing on the clashing ideals and what happened to the different races of musical trolls, and I highly commend DreamWorks and the team that made this film for wanting to go a creative and mature route with the story. This is why, even with all of their faults, people still support DreamWorks, because, sometimes, they find a way to take an idea that sounds dumb on face value and run with it. I love it when a studio decides to do this, because it shows that they have an idea about how to make the film work. I’m not going to say other films based on intellectual properties didn’t try, but DreamWorks Animation was able to go the distance to make a more memorable product.

Animation-wise, the film still does look good. It’s doing more of that felt-like fabric that comes right out of Kirby’s Epic Yarn or Yoshi’s Wooly World. It’s even adding in more faux stop-motion movements into certain characters and parts of the world. It’s not going as far as to say, Netflix’s The Willoughbys, but the DreamWorks Trolls series still has one of the more unique looks out of any animated film series. Casting-wise, I’m mixed. On one hand, Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake were fine, and they have decent lines and good chemistry, but I found myself enjoying the other actors more. Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, and Sam Rockwell left more impressions on me than the other major celebrities. I also won’t deny that the celebrity casting was distracting. I get that everyone is enjoying a Kelly Clarkson bonanza, and she probably got on here the same way Gwen Stefani did in the first film by being on The Voice, but I found her distracting as the leader of the Country Trolls. Even minor characters who were played by celebrities were distracting, like the K pop group Red Velvet, the McElroy Brothers popping up all over the place that are only in there because they made some internet campaign to be in the sequel, even if they added nothing to the film, and you get the idea. To be fair, I did like some of the celebrity castings with George Clinton and Mary J Blige as the king and queen Funk Trolls, and Anderson Paak probably gets the best scene in the entire film. It’s a mixed bag for me in terms of the voice cast. The music is mostly cover songs, but they do have more original songs in this film than the last one, and I think if we get a third film, they should do all original songs.

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So, let’s talk about the faults in order of the least problematic to the biggest issue the film has under its belt. First off, this film stuffs in a couple of multi-song sequences, and unless you are a kid, you will find these parts obnoxious. One of those points is meant to be obnoxious, but it doesn’t mean it gets a free pass. When you get past those two moments, everything else is pretty okay pacing-wise. Also, for a film about how our differences make us unique and we should join forces into harmony with those unique traits, they still bash a couple of music genres like smooth jazz and disco. I think that last one, while funny in a cute way, is unfortunate due to the real reason why disco burned out so quickly, which is way darker than I have time to get into with this review. Once again, DreamWorks’ obsession with side characters that don’t do anything or add anything to the story is obnoxious. They have a few trolls from the original that don’t return for some unknown reason, and yet they introduce a new one voiced by Ester Dean, and she does nothing. She doesn’t have a major point to the overall story, and many of the returning troll characters don’t offer substance either. They are there, because they have to be, and I don’t care if they have more personality in the show, because people shouldn’t have to add an eight-season show to their list of shows to watch before this film. While the gaggle of music industry cameos of famous singers and musicians is appropriate here, many of them could have been replaced by voice actors and nothing would be missed.

Now then, let’s get into the real meaty issue with this film, Branch, and Poppy, but mostly Branch. Branch is another male lead in an animated sequel that has absolutely nothing to do. His entire arc was finished by the first film, and what does he get? A flimsy “I gotta tell Poppy how much I love her and I don’t know how to” plot. Yeah, not only does he get the same treatment as Gnomeo in Sherlock Gnomes, Ralph in Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Kristoff in Frozen II, Branch is quite possibly the worst of them. They even regressed his character’s design to be more like how he was in the first film. I don’t get that decision. At least you can talk about some commentary or themes with Kristoff’s Lost in the Woods sequence. Poppy gets a slightly better story, but she teeters on being too unlikable and stubborn. I get it’s the parallel story to Queen Barb, but you have to balance out a story arc with this kind of stubborn character carefully, because she could come off as more unlikable and annoying than anything else.

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While it aims high and doesn’t make the landing, I still enjoyed watching Trolls: World Tour. It’s one of those films that I think people will talk more about as time goes on. Now, this is a unique situation for this film as to how I would recommend it. On one hand, if you have kids, or want to do a watch party, then, yeah, I highly recommend checking it out. It will be worth the $20 asking price for rentals. On the other hand, if you are hesitant to put that much down for a rental, I would wait to buy it or rent it at a lower price point. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I stand by my criticisms, but I still enjoyed watching it. We will have to see if we come back to this world in the future outside of the new animated series going up on NBC’s service Peacock in the future. It’s kind of up to you if you want to support it. Now then, next time, we will be talking about Netflix’s first major animated film of 2020, The Willoughbys.