If you haven’t become at least a little disillusioned over the past few years, either you are living under a rock (is there room for me there too?) or you have some kind of superpower. So many of the Christian leaders who portrayed themselves as the “good guys” turned out to be predators (Catholic priests in Pennsylvania), megalomaniacs (Mark Driscoll, Carl Lentz), abusers (sexual abuse allegations in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Anglican Church in North America, Sovereign Grace Ministries, etc).
As a Christian, I understand that people are complicated and that we’re all vulnerable to temptation. But it still doesn’t make me long any less for a world with real good guys.
These were the thoughts going through my head when I screened DreamWorks’ latest animated film, The Bad Guys. Based on the book series by Aaron Blabey, the movie features a crime ring of animals called “The Bad Guys”: Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Shark, Mr. Piranha, and Ms. Tarantula. Because people already think that they are bad, scary animals, the team decided doing bad things was easier than trying to be good. The Bad Guys mostly pull off heists, robbing banks and museums of their valuables. They con their way out of jail by pretending to go “good,” with the help of Professor Marmalade, an adorable and compassionate guinea pig who has just won an award for being a good citizen. The film offers a thoughtful moral lesson while serving up a steady stream of great jokes and hilarious sight gags.
The Bad Guys asks viewers to check their biases and assumptions about who is “good” and who is “bad.” When we see the Bad Guys, we see a group of predators. But these guys (and a gal) are also loyal friends and roommates. Yes, they commit crimes, but they also care for each other. The movie opens with the gang going out of their way to celebrate Mr. Snake’s birthday, with a cake and gift. The Bad Guys trust each other — in their heists and in their life together. Most of all, they are genuine. They don’t hide who they are behind a mask of respectability.
Learning to look past scary stereotypes to see the good in people (or creatures) would have been enough of a lesson to pack into this delightful heist movie, but The Bad Guys goes one step further. It asks us to also look past stereotypes of what or who is “good” to see that “bad” or “scary” can hide behind a seemingly safe facade.
In an interesting twist, Professor Marmalade — the guinea pig lauded as a stand-up citizen — is revealed to be a villain. He abuses the city’s trust and goodwill to carry out an evil scheme.
There are some red flags that go up throughout the movie that suggest Professor Marmalade is not who he seems. He says “being good just feels so good. And when you’re good you’re loved.” Rather than encouraging Mr. Wolf and his friends to do the right thing because it’s right, he brings out a tired trope that doing good things will earn them love. Love, in his eyes, is transactional. But gradually, the Bad Guys realize that they already love each other. Throughout the movie, Mr. Snake kept refusing to share with Mr. Shark. But in a touching scene leading up to the film’s climax, Mr. Snake willingly offers Mr. Shark the last push pop, instead of hoarding it for himself. He also goes undercover to infiltrate and thwart Professor Marmalade’s plan and save his friends. That’s the type of unselfish love that redeems them and saves the day — a love that may sound familiar to Christians.
Jesus wasn’t always considered one of the Good Guys. He went from being celebrated to being hated in just a matter of days. He is fundamentally misunderstood by both the religious and political leadership. Jesus is the ultimate Good Guy who willingly takes his place with the “Bad Guys,” both in life and in death.
Contrary to Professor Marmalade, Jesus’s love isn’t based on how good we are. He is willing to be “numbered with the transgressors” in order to make those transgressors righteous (Isaiah 53:12). None of us, not even the “baddest” good guy or the “goodest” bad guy, are beyond redemption and the love of God.
Christ is risen, Alleluia.