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'The Bad Guys' animated comedy teaches kids to examine character, not outward appearance: stars

The Bad Guys
The Bad Guys |

On the surface, “The Bad Guys” is a fast-paced, animated film about a crew of criminal animal outlaws tasked with becoming model citizens to avoid jail time. But underneath that, the film highlights an important message for both children and adults: Don’t judge others by their outward appearance — and change is possible, even for “bad guys.”

That’s according to the director and cast of the DreamWorks Animation comedy, hitting theaters on April 22. “The Bad Guys” follows five notorious friends: pickpocket Mr. Wolf, cynical Mr. Snake, master-of-disguise Mr. Shark, volatile Mr. Piranha and expert computer hacker Ms. Tarantula.

After getting away with a series of heists, the friends are finally caught by the police. In an effort to save his crew from prison, Mr. Wolf makes a deal with a do-gooder guinea pig named Professor Marmalade: The “bad guys” will change their ways. 

Though they have no intention of keeping their promise, the “bad guys” begin carrying out good deeds — and Mr. Wolf starts to realize that doing good has benefits. He realizes that just maybe, he secretly wanted to be a “good guy” all along. When a new villain threatens the city, Mr. Wolf is tasked with persuading the rest of the gang to truly become “good guys.”

Based on The New York Times bestselling book series by Aaron Blabey, “The Bad Guys” is directed by Pierre Perifel and stars Sam Rockwell, Craig Robinson, Marc Maron, Anthony Ramos and more. 

In an interview with The Christian Post, Perifel reflected on some of the film’s deeper themes, including the idea that anyone can change despite their past. 

Because of their species, Mr. Wolf and his crew are seen by society as “bad.” It doesn’t matter how nice Tarantula is to people; they still run away screaming once they spot her spindly legs. And while Professor Marmalade is known for his good works, even receiving a coveted award for his flawless character, he might not be as moral as he appears.

“You identify with what the rest of society projects on you, but it doesn't mean it's you,” Perifel said. “And so that's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy for these bad guys; it’s like, 'We’re bad, so I guess we don't have anything else to do, but prove that we are bad or do bad things.' But … what you are born like doesn't represent who you are, or what you people project on you doesn't represent who you are.”

The film, he said, is ultimately about “stereotyping” and not judging a book by its cover: “If you're a good person, if your actions are the right actions, then you're going to be a good person. Your actions define who you are, and not what you’re born like. It was really important to us to get that message across. … to me, that was an important one that we needed to get through.”

Maron, who voices Mr. Snake — one of the film’s most interesting and misunderstood subjects — agreed that “The Bad Guys” is ultimately calling for empathy and compassion, themes he said apply to viewers of all ages. 

“I think people forget that, whatever they're taking in about anybody unless it's in their day-to-day life, it's just a reaction in a moment,” the comedian stressed. “And that person that you're reacting to or judging has another 23 hours in their day … you have no idea what anyone's lives are like, or what their struggles are, you can always assume that they're equally as challenging as yours, if not more so. Humans all go through a certain amount of struggle and difficulty and you should approach them with empathy as opposed to judgment.”

“The Bad Guys” is rated PG for action and rude humor, including some potty humor. A fast-paced heist film, it also features cartoon violence including explosions, fighting and characters being hit by a car. 

But like the books on which it’s based, the film provides positive content families can discuss together — something Maron says attracted him to the film. 

“The idea that we could do this movie that's really a grown-up world, in terms of even the movie structure, but still have these basic themes about friendship and about judgment … was exciting, because I think that's the real challenge. …  I'm very touched by the idea that parents can do something with their kids, and not be nervous about it. So I was happy to be part of something that was aiming to provide that.”

Perifel, a father himself, said the responsibility of making family-friendly content is not lost on him. His passion for animation gives him the perfect opportunity to do just that.

“I fell into animation before thinking of making movies for that audience,” he said. “Turns out, animation is mostly made for that audience. And because I'm a dad as well, I think it just perfectly converges together.”

“I think also through this, it was a personal challenge to say, 'What if we try just to make this movie like a gateway into adult movies, but for children?' And therefore through it ... we struck a balance that's very interesting. Because it pleases adults, but also kids love it. … I think ‘Bad Guys’ works very well for that reason.”

“Bad Guys” hits theaters nationwide on April 22.

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