There’s an old joke among animation lovers that the difference between Pixar and DreamWorks is a matter of conceptual vision: While Pixar movies tend to be wildly original feats of creativity and imagination, DreamWorks movies are usually about anthropomorphic animals doing fairly standard human stuff while smirking. There’s even a popular term for the wry, self-satisfied expression their characters invariably wear: DreamWorks Face.
This punchline has been circulating for years, and while it isn’t entirely fair to DreamWorks (which has made some interesting movies), it’s hard not to think of it when confronted with “The Bad Guys” (which is not one of them). This inane, juvenile animated comedy, directed by Pierre Perifel, is about a thieving clan of talking animals forced to reform after an elaborate heist goes wrong. They steal, they banter, they have car chases, as animals do not. There’s barely a frame in which they don’t smirk.
Of course, the animals are voiced by celebrities, including Marc Maron, Richard Ayoade and Awkwafina. Sam Rockwell voices the leader of the pack, Mr. Wolf, as a thinly veiled parody of George Clooney in the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies. The parody is so thinly veiled, in fact, that another character refers to him as going “full Clooney” when he lays on the charm.
The fast-paced, action-oriented heist sequences, however, have more in common with the later “Fast and Furious” films than with classic heist pictures like “Ocean’s,” and there are several overly long, gravity-defying car chases throughout, as if to drive the comparison home. As for comedy, “The Bad Guys” offers dregs: fart jokes, underwear gags, bad animal-related puns. It’s rote material, symptomatic of the underlying problem — a lack of imagination.
The Bad Guys
Rated PG for mild cartoon violence. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. In theaters.