Upsettingly Suave and Disgustingly Cool: Pierre Perifel and Aaron Blabey on The Bad Guys

Aaron Blabey knows that children enjoy a peek into the world of grown-ups and it is fun for them to get the vicarious thrill of seeing naughty characters, especially if they learn their lesson. His very popular series of graphic novels about The Bad Guys is now an animated film directed with flair by Pierre Perifel, featuring voice actors Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Zazie Beetz, and Lilly Singh.  

Why do children like stories about bad guys?

AARON BLABEY: I think there’s something intriguing about them that we all love. With this series, I think the reason it’s connected, it’s to do with the fact that I use iconography that is generally associated with adult stuff. It is in a different age bracket from what kids can normally get their hands on. I’ve taken that, and I’ve hot-wired it in such a way that it is directly for kids. And I think that is really exciting. I know when I was a kid, I loved that. And my kids are the same. 

When you talk about the iconography are you talking about the characters, who are all scary animals, a wolf, a snake, a shark, a tarantula, and a piranha?

AB: Absolutely. But then I’ve crossed with other things. I’ve taken imagery from Tarantino, which is in no way for children, and then put it in a new context and turned it into something else. Because we haven’t seen that necessarily before, right from the first time the books appeared in schools they just exploded. And I think that’s why. I think it’s because it feels like they’ve got their hands on a kind of story that is usually just for older siblings but somehow this one is for them. 

Pierre, I love the way Wolf walks in this movie. It’s ua- old-movie-style cool. And I know walking is a challenge in animation.

PIERRE PERIFEL: It’s really interesting because as animators usually, at least at DreamWorks, when we develop those characters, one of the first things we do is do a walk test because a walk can convey so much personality for a character. And we usually do that for all of them. For Wolf that walk came about through a lot of discussion with Ben Willis, who is the supervising animator. We tried a couple of different attitudes. We knew he needed to have that cool swagger in him so that we really could contrast that with the moment where he’s not in control. Because he’s also quite a bit of a goofball. He’s not just a straight George Clooney; we always thought of him more like Indiana Jones, where he’s the cool guy but when he’s faced with the situation he has to improvise and he is not always elegant in the way he does things. But in order to get that contrast he needed that cool swagger.

So, he’s upsettingly suave, and disgustingly cool so that we could make him goofier later on. 

I got a kick out of seeing some of Sam Rockwell’s signature moves when Wolf has a dance scene.

PP: We worked with the choreographer Susie Meissner for that whole dance sequence. She had been working with Sam for quite a few projects and she knows him really, really well. Actually, Sam himself recommended her to us, and so when she dove in for the choreography of this sequence, of this dance, she knew exactly how Sam would move. She could incorporate some of his movements, or infuse the dance choreography with his movements, even though he was not the one shooting the video reference. And then animators actually also studied some of Sam’s movements and infused them into the animation in the end.

The cool tone is also set by the score by one of my favorites, Daniel Pemberton. 

PP: There was such a clarity about what Aaron had written, all that book series. When I jumped in the project, it quickly came together what we wanted this movie to look like and feel like. From the beginning of our first presentation of some storyboards, I always wanted to pitch the studio what kind of music I wanted to hear for the film so it was always there from the very get-go. We first talked about Tarantino, and his soundtracks are very specific, is really using mostly needle drops and songs from his online library. I wanted to do that at first and then realized it’s much harder to do than you think. But then when I pitched our ideas to the music supervisor at Universal the first name that came up was Daniel. They told me just go listen to what Daniel does. And I listened. I was like, “Oh, my God, those are some of my favorite soundtracks. Oh yeah, of course.” I called him and he happened to be in LA. I pitched him the movie, and the first thing he did was actually lay out four demos, four tracks, and of course, being Daniel it was perfect, it matched exactly what we wanted. Daniel is the definition of a genius. And he’s been delivering us one of the most amazing scores I’ve ever heard for an animated film.

There’s a lot of very fun technology in the film. If you could have one item in real life, what would it be?

AB: I want the car. 

PP: You took the easy one, buddy. I want the thought-controlling helmet.

One of my favorite movie genres is the heist movie. What do you think is the enduring appeal? Why do we love them so much?

AB: It’s one of my favorites, too. It’s almost interactive in a way, isn’t it? You’re involved. I guess it probably triggers the same parts of the brain like you’re watching a murder mystery; you try to figure out things as you go along, which is tremendously engaging. And what’s been so exciting about this project is you don’t see it for kids, you don’t see it in animation. So, it’s been really beautiful to open up kind of a new genre for a family movie. 

PP: First is you’re on the side of the bad guys but then they are never really bad. When I was a kid playing cops and robbers, I always wanted to be side of the gangster because it’s slightly outside of the law but then you’re not really bad. But the other part of it I always equate to a magic trick. You’re following a story and then at the end, boom, that’s the reveal of how they did it. And you’re like, “Oh, my God, I never saw that coming, but it all fits together.” And that always felt so appealing to me. It’s always super cool characters. You want to be them.

“The Bad Guys” will be available only in theaters on April 22nd.

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