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Over the weekend, DreamWorks Animation's The Bad Guys became the new box office champion, overtaking Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with a $24 million domestic haul and an A CinemaScore from moviegoers. Throw in a wave of positive reviews for the new film based on the animated book series by Aaron Blabey, and it looks like The Bad Guys is an original animation hit for DreamWorks.
For Blabey, who's sold more than 30 million children's books in no small part thanks to the launch of The Bad Guys series in 2015, it's both an unlikely success story and a sort of prophecy fulfilled. In an interview with The New York Times over the weekend to promote the film adaptation, loosely based on the first four books in his series, Blabey explained that The Bad Guys came about in part because he'd given himself an ultimatum as an author working a string of day jobs to keep his family afloat. It was simple: At the age of 40, he would either come up with an idea that would make him a full-time author, or surrender himself to a corporate job.
Blabey quickly came up with several concepts that would later be books, including The Bad Guys, a gang of anthropomorphized animal criminals who decide that they're going straight, and they're going to be good guys no matter what people think. Inspired in part by his love of Quentin Tarantino films and driven by his desire to write a book that would be "as exciting as playing Xbox or watching a movie" for kids, Blabey solidified the concept over the course of a long walk, then got an interesting prediction from a friend.
"All of those ideas converged on a walk through the countryside in 2014, and when I wrote the idea down with all the character names, I texted a friend and said, 'What do you think of this?' and she texted back, 'That sounds like a DreamWorks movie,'" Blabey recalled. "We both laughed and I didn’t think about that again until I found myself in Hollywood, talking to all the studios and being at DreamWorks."
Now, one of Blabey's last-chance ideas -- now 14 books long, with the 15th Bad Guys graphic novel set to release this July -- is a hit movie with a shot at becoming a hit movie franchise. The author, who's dubbed himself the "epitome of a late bloomer," no longer has to worry about paying the bills with his writing. Now, he spends a little more time thinking about his characters and their adventures, even if he and his readers can't always agree on who the best Bad Guy is.
"[Readers] do contact me. Mr. Piranha [voiced by Anthony Ramos in the film] has generally been the fan favorite because he’s probably the funniest of the group. My personal favorite has always been Mr. Snake [Marc Maron] because he’s the most complicated of the group, and the one who struggles the most," Blabey said. "He’s kind of like a recovering alcoholic, he’s trying to stay on the path with the other guys, but he keeps falling off and they keep trying to help him out. The journey is more of a struggle for him.
"I think the core relationship between Mr. Wolf [Sam Rockwell], who is an optimist despite his circumstances, and Snake, who is a pessimist, creates a relatable tension that my kids loved from the outset and it seems that other kids get it, too. Their relationship is messy and complicated, like the actual relationships between people, which is somewhat rare in books for the 6-to-12 market. My kids always loved that [complexity]. It didn’t feel 'kiddie' to them. It felt like they were being treated like little adults who could understand stuff. Having said that, my own kids, who are now 14 and 16, also love Piranha because he’s the funniest."
The Bad Guys is now in theaters.