Home > Reviews > THE BAD GUYS – Daniel Pemberton

THE BAD GUYS – Daniel Pemberton

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Bad Guys is a new animated adventure comedy from Dreamworks, directed by Pierre Perifel, based on a popular children’s book series by Aaron Blabey. It is set in a world of anthropomorphic animals and focuses on a criminal gang of traditionally ‘bad’ animals – a wolf, a snake, a spider, a shark, and a piranha. The gang is wildly successful at pulling off elaborate heists, but when their latest scheme goes badly awry, they are finally caught. To avoid a prison sentence, the outlaws must pull off their most challenging con yet – becoming model citizens. Under the tutelage of their mentor, Professor Marmalade, the gang sets out to fool the world that they’re turning good – but things are not what they seem, and soon the gang is involved in a high energy adventure. The film has a really good voice cast including Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, and Awkwafina, and has an original score by the outstanding British composer Daniel Pemberton.

In recent years Pemberton has established himself as one of the most exciting talents in film music, with Oscar nominations and Golden Globe nominations for both songwriting and composing. What’s really helped propel Pemberton to the upper echelons of the film music world is his versatility. In the past few years he has showcased his excellence across multiple genres, including super hero action (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Birds of Prey), serious drama (The Trial of the Chicago 7, All the Money in the World), period pieces (Enola Holmes), and lavish fantasy (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance). The Bad Guys, however, is another entry into what may be becoming his most successful niche – jazz. Pemberton has already explored the jazz angle before in scores as varied as Oceans 8 and Motherless Brooklyn, but this score ups the ante even further and is essentially an homage to the great jazz heist scores of the past, a combination of John Barry, Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones, David Shire, and Lalo Schifrin, plus his own score for The Man from UNCLE, turned up to the max.

In an interview with Jon Burlingame for Variety, Pemberton says “the film in some ways is an homage to classic caper movies, and it’s a world I really love playing in. You get to be really bold: big breaks, big brass sections, big tunes, and big grooves.” Pemberton says that, at its core, it’s a “very joyous score, even though there’s sneakiness, tension, all that kind of stuff.” The score is based around a main recurring theme for the gang, introduced right from the outset in “The Big Bad Wolf” and “Meet The Bad Guys,” although as it develops it comes to focus mostly on the Wolf character voiced by Rockwell. The other members of the Wolf’s gang don’t seem to have any particular defining musical characteristic of their own, but for the most part that’s OK because the thematic content is less important than the score’s overall vibe.

It’s cool, it’s groovy, and it’s so much fun, a swingin’ orchestra led by ballsy brasses and luxurious percussion licks that are heavy on the bongos, throbbing plucked basses, dirty guitars, Hammond organs, quirky keyboard samples fed through a Moog synthesizer, and more. Cues like “Lets’ Bounce,” the languid “Push Pop,” “Step 3,” the effortlessly swaggering “Security Surprise,” the dirty-sounding “The Dolphin Heist,” the dance-like “Loot Loops,” and so many others, are just superb, full of catchy and up-tempo jazzy goodness and a raw, throaty instrumental drawl. I also like the downbeat, wistful version of the main theme that crops up towards the end of the score in cues like “The Sad Guys” and “Redemption,” as it adds some depth of emotion to the whole thing.

In addition to the main theme for the gang, one or two of the plot elements feature a different defined style. The motif for Crimson Paw, the film’s nefarious antagonist who both helps and hinders the gang, makes prominent use of an Indian bansuri re-purposed as a jazz flute, and can be heard prominently in cues like “The Crimson Paw” and “Secret Hideout,” among others. Meanwhile the fussy British guinea pig Professor Marmalade has a tinkling Bach-inspired piano piece that is heard prominently in “Marmalade Prelude”. Perhaps the most peculiar instrument in the score is the Japanese taishōgoto, a stringed instrument that comes across like a combination between a harp, an accordion, and a zither, and whose unusual eerie tones can be heard perhaps most prominently in “One Last Push Pop”.

A couple of cues really up the tempo and explode into terrific orchestral jazz action music – “So Long Suckers,” “Just Robbing This Place,” and “Freeway Escape” are especially exciting; the throbbing, unstoppable electric guitar riff in the latter is just superb. Other cues, such as “Going to Do Good,” “Save the Cat,” and “Bedtime Story,” are more mellow, and sometimes bring in a soft choir and a more emotional sweep. Later, during the score’s impressive conclusion, cues like “Double Crossed,” the militaristic “Evil Masterplan,” and “Finish Them” have a superb sense of mystery and drama, with more powerful orchestral forces taking over from the jazz combo, offering some more intense emotional content built around brass triplet flourishes that have a revelatory John Barry James Bond vibe, crossed with 1990s David Arnold. “Who Said It Was the End?” seems to be intentionally channeling the guitars from Hans Zimmer’s Thelma & Louise, before switching to a close approximation of the iconic Hammond organ solo from Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

In addition to the score Pemberton also wrote two original songs; “Good Tonight,” which is performed in-character by actor Anthony Ramos as Mr. Piranha during a heist scene, and “Brand New Day,” which Pemberton co-wrote with Daniel Taylor and Kelvin Swaby and is performed by their band, English indie rock stalwarts The Heavy. A third original song called “Feelin’ Alright” is performed by jazz/rock vocalist Elle King, the daughter of actor/comedian Rob Schneider, with a smoky, throaty growl. All of them are excellent.

In order to get anything out of The Bad Guys you have to like raucous jazz and funk alongside your impressive and stylish orchestra… but fortunately I do, so I had a blast with it. Anyone who enjoyed any of Pemberton’s previous action-jazz efforts – especially things like The Man from UNCLE and Oceans 8 – or who has a lasting affinity for the classic 1970s action-heist scores by Barry, Mancini, Shire, and Schifrin, will find The Bad Guys to be a delight. You don’t have to be afraid of this big bad wolf – he’ll huff and he’ll puff, but he won’t blow your house down as much as he will make it groovy.

Buy the Bad Guys soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Big Bad Wolf (1:05)
  • Meet The Bad Guys (3:39)
  • Let’s Bounce (3:08)
  • Push Pop (3:28)
  • Step 3 (3:17)
  • Security Surprise (1:36)
  • The Dolphin Heist (4:38)
  • Going to Go Good (4:07)
  • Turn on the Charm (1:23)
  • Marmalade Prelude (1:32)
  • A Heist for Good (2:28)
  • The Sharing Laboratory (1:51)
  • Save the Cat (1:43)
  • Good Tonight (written by Daniel Pemberton, Gary Go, Anthony Ramos, and Will Wells, performed by Anthony Ramos) (3:41)
  • So Long Suckers (1:56)
  • The Lair of Loot (2:29)
  • Loot Loops (1:08)
  • Bedtime Story (2:06)
  • Double Crossed (4:09)
  • Tricky Fox (1:08)
  • The Crimson Paw (1:51)
  • Secret Hideout (2:19)
  • Evil Masterplan (1:13)
  • The Sad Guys (1:35)
  • One Last Push Pop (1:40)
  • Finish Them (1:45)
  • Huff + Puff (2:07)
  • Just Robbing This Place (1:55)
  • Freeway Escape (2:27)
  • Who Said It Was the End? (2:03)
  • Redemption (2:01)
  • The Old Switcheroo (1:45)
  • Feelin’ Alright (written by Dave Mason, performed by Elle King) (4:04)
  • Brand New Day (written by Daniel Pemberton, Daniel Taylor, and Kelvin Swaby, performed by The Heavy) (3:45)

Running Time: 81 minutes 18 seconds

Back Lot Music (2021)

Music composed by Daniel Pemberton. Conducted by Alexei Fuentes. Orchestrations by Nathan Klein and Edward Farmer. Recorded and mixed by Sam Okell. Edited by Katie Greathouse. Album produced by Daniel Pemberton.

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