By Gill Pringle

Based on the illustrated books of best-selling Australian children’s author, Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys is an animated family flick posing as a heist caper comedy – while still delivering a lot of heart and some important life lessons. Featuring an eclectic voice cast including Sam Rockwell (Mr. Wolf); Marc Maron (Mr. Snake); Awkwafiina (Ms. Tarantula); Anthony Ramos (Mr. Piranha); Craig Robinson (Mr. Shark) and Alex Borstein (Police Chief), The Bad Guys marks Pierre Perfiel’s debut animated feature film, with the debutante having been a part of Dreamworks’ animated team for fourteen years, working on the Kung Fu Panda films among other projects.

Serving as an executive producer, Aaron Blabey gave the filmmakers a wide rein to bring his crackerjack criminal crew of animal outlaws to the big screen, as these five friends face their toughest challenge yet – becoming model citizens. After years of countless heists and being the world’s most-wanted villains, when the gang is finally caught, Mr. Wolf brokers a plea deal (that he has no intention of keeping) to save them all from prison: The Bad Guys will go good under the tutelage of their mentor, an arrogant guinea pig named Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), and turn good.

Born in Lyon, France, Pierre Perifel studied animation at Paris’ prestigious college, Gobelins, l’Ecole de l’image, where he won several awards even as a student, going on to work on films like Curious George, Nocturna and The Illusionist. FilmInk talks to Perifel about how he struck a fine balance between bad and good, and how he used Quentin Tarantino as an inspiration:

Pierre Perifel and The Bad Guys author Aaron Blabey.

How closely did you work on The Bad Guys with Australian author Aaron Blabey?

“He’s actually an executive producer on the film, so I’ve been working with him for the last three-and-a-half years. He’s very involved, and he’s an amazing guy and an amazing artist. He’s just a fantastic person.”

Did Aaron want any Australian characters in the film?

“No, it didn’t come up. He was actually incredibly open-minded about anything that we would throw at him. His stories and his books are not set in a specific area; it was not Australia and not the US, so it’s like a made-up world. He never pushed for us to actually use any Australian voice actors, which could have been fantastic, by the way. The idea of setting this in Los Angeles came a little later, and then because of the setting, we just went with a mostly American cast. But he was never pushing us to be Australian driven. We could have done that too, and it would have totally worked, by the way.”

A scene from The Bad Guys.

The Bad Guys feels like a love letter to Los Angeles. Did you feel that way yourself when you first moved to LA in 2008?

“It took me a few years to actually be completely comfortable here. Not comfortable in the sense of the perks of living in LA which has always been amazing – it’s more like loving the looks of the city. It’s such a melting pot of so many architectural decisions and styles. There are incredibly wealthy places right next to much less wealthy neighborhoods, and it’s a very interesting vibe. It’s super green and super vast, but it also has an amazing skyline with the palm trees and the electric wires, and it’s also very layered thanks to the fog. So after you get used to living here, you see the beauty of the city. It’s a very graphic, rich, visual place, and the light of LA obviously is just unmatched and unrivaled. I wanted to pay homage to this place, and I wanted to make it a love letter to LA. I love this city so much.”

The Bad Guys, both the film and the books, serve as a metaphor for not jumping to stereotypes. Did you – as a Frenchman moving to LA – suffer from any stereotypes yourself?

“So the French are stereotyped as romantic, handsome, great lovers and eating garlic and stinking! So, yes, of course they still stereotype me! There are always preconceived ideas, and so this movie is all about, ‘Hey, look a little bit deeper. Don’t stop on the surface. What is behind that person’s story? Dive in a little bit more.’ That’s what we’re trying to say with this film. That’s very important for me: to give someone that you deem a bad person a second chance. There might be mistakes that have been made, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them a chance at redemption. That’s definitely part of it. Stereotyping isn’t a good thing.”

The Bad Guys crew.

Let’s talk about the casting…

“We wanted a cast that was very unique, very fresh, very unexpected and cool. We wanted very different personalities, so that each could illustrate one certain aspect of those characters, so each character was super defined. Awkwafina was on our minds from the very beginning, but the others weren’t as clearly defined. But while we were crafting the story, they slowly came to light. Sam Rockwell has the requisite charm, but also that ability to tap into something much more raw. Mr. Wolf is that wounded kind of character, and there’s a certain time in the movie where that anger comes out. Once we figured Sam out, the rest of the cast came into place. Anthony has that energy and innocence that is completely fitting for Mr. Piranha, and he came on the set so joyful, and so happy. He also brought his own tone and flavour and accent to the character in such a fantastic way. All of them are so specifically tailored to their role. That’s the fruit of a long research period and fine-tuning in terms of the casting itself.”

You’ve spoken about how The Bad Guys is a homage to Quentin Tarantino, but I see a lot of Mission: Impossible in there. What do you think?

“The first step in the story was, ‘Yeah, this is Reservoir Dogs with animals. Cool!’ And then you start diving a little bit into the tension as well, and you realise that it doesn’t necessarily suit children! But how do you capture that idea of an adult type of movie but that would suit a younger audience? Obviously, there’s the graphic violence and the amazing dialogue that are very adult, but it’s also got this great use of music. So we kept that use of music in ours, and I worked closely with Daniel Pemberton, our composer. and say, ‘How can we make a score that is not a typical score?’ We were also influenced by Ocean’s 11, Snatch, Baby Driver, James Bond and Mission: Impossible. It’s a melting pot of all those references and all those movies that I love. I wanted to make it a gateway film for families, you know? Can I expose young audiences to those kind of films, and make sure that you love them as much as I do?”

A scene from The Bad Guys.

Was there any concern that The Bad Guys might glorify being bad for impressionable young audiences?

“Of course, yeah. There was quite a bit of discussion about it. But when you’re a kid, and you play cops and robbers, you always want to be on the side of the robbers, right? It’s much more fun because you’re outside the law and you can just do bad things! And yet, it doesn’t mean that you’re bad. It was the same idea with our bad guys. They’re doing this, but they never knew how to be anybody else. The one challenge was to make sure that they felt lovable from the beginning. How do you make sure that these guys who are doing bad things are lovable? I think the angle was that it’s a group of very caring members of one family; that’s how we got the angle where we would connect with our heroes and just love them. And then the inciting incident for Mr. Wolf is when his tail wags and he realises, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got more in me than just being a bad boy. I actually could be a good guy.’ I actually love that. That’s when families are like, ‘Oh, that’s what it is. That’s what this story is about; the story of redemption.’ It was important for us to sustain that first fifteen minutes of the film until you realize that Mr. Wolf, the main character, is actually going to change to become a better person. From that point on, it’s all about becoming good.”

The Bad Guys is in cinemas now. Click here to watch our video interview with The Bad Guys author Aaron Blabey.


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