It’s no secret that Aussie author Aaron Blabey’s series of children’s books, The Bad Guys, has been a huge success. The books, which follow the adventures of a group of animal criminals, have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. They should really really think about renaming it to ‘The Big Guys’ at this point.
It seems like a no-brainer then that a Hollywood studio would snap up the rights to make a film version. But from the author’s point of view, how exactly does that happen?
Aaron Blabey told Gizmodo Australia in a video interview that after The Bad Guys took off in schools overseas, the Hollywood studios came calling.
“I went across and met with all the studios at the end of 2016 and a number of them were pursuing the series,” Blabey explained.
But it was Dreamworks that stood out.
“We just found ourselves drifting back each time to Dreamworks because they just had the best feel for it. Their sense of the tone and spirit of the books, my sense of humour and the characters, they were almost reverent towards it.”
The author said Dreamworks’ respect for the source material was comforting, particularly after so many book-to-movie adaptations have gone wrong.
“As a lifelong movie fan, I’m acutely aware of how quickly an adaptation can go off the rails and how often people, especially authors, are deeply disappointed in an adaptation of their book. So that was my worst nightmare, really,” Blabey said.
“But we just had a gut feeling from the beginning that Dreamworks was the right home.”
And so began the process of turning hand-drawn pages into big-screen animation.
Pierre Perifel was hired to direct The Bad Guys and Etan Cohen and Hilary Winston penned the movie’s script, but Blabey remained on board as an executive producer which gave him a fair amount of oversight.
“It allowed me to be across every draft of the script, every cut of the movie and then contribute thoughts and notes on everything that I loved and everything that I didn’t love so much,” Blabey said.
The author’s notes on a project are something that could be ignored but Blabey said in the case of The Bad Guys they never were.
“From the beginning, everything that I have ever written down or mentioned to them has been considered or incorporated. Or they’ve shown me an alternative that’s been better than something I’ve suggested,” he said.
Keeping the spirit of the books alive in the movie was incredibly important to Blabey, who has often been referred to as “Tarantino for children”. That being said, there’s something in there for adults as well.
“It lands in that spot where adults and children can simultaneously have a really great time,” Blabey said.
The story of The Bad Guys in the movie sticks pretty closely to that of the books. Mr Wolf, Mr Shark, Mr Snake, Mr Piranha and Ms Tarantula have always been seen as the bad guys.
So, they decide to lean into that stereotype and form a criminal gang pulling heists across the city. But in order to save themselves from prison time they have to promise to become the good guys, which proves to be a challenge for some more than others.
Blabey said he was pleased by how faithful The Bad Guys movie is to the first four books in his series. However, he wasn’t afraid to let the film move in its own direction.
“Because it’s a movie and it’s a different format, they wanted to push through with that Soderbergh kind of heist tone, and that was obviously right in my wheelhouse as well,” Blabey said. “So I couldn’t have been more thrilled when it went in that direction.”
It’s easy to see that faithful transition from book to movie in The Bad Guys’ trailers alone, which show off a heist story full of heart and humour.
Pair that with a killer voice cast, that includes the likes of Sam Rockwell and Awkwafina, and a slick animation style, The Bad Guys seems poised to be a new animated favourite.
That unique animation style, which brings Blabey’s sketches to life, was something the author was particularly blown away by.
“I am an extremely limited draftsman,” Blabey explained. “The books are a testament so someone working right at the limit of their talent.”
“What’s been a joy is watching a team, who massively know what they’re doing in that department, just take it and fly into this amazing world,” he said. “There are elements of [CGI], but there’s also elements of 2D and anime and all kinds of other stuff mashed in there, which I think has made it feel really fresh.”
Comparisons between the animation styles of The Bad Guys and the award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse have already been made, which is a huge testament to the film before its release.
“It looked edible to me. You just want to munch on it,” Blabey said.
Now, The Bad Guys’ release date is imminent which brings an end to a multi-year journey (often done over Zoom) for Blabey. Luckily, it’s been a fruitful one and the author has come away feeling extremely proud of the film adaptation.
“There’s not a single frame of this film that I’m not entirely behind,” the author said.
The Bad Guys will released in Australian cinemas today, March 31.