Wolf, Snake, Webs, Shark, and Piranha must save Christmas in order to save their annual holiday heist – giving to the city so they can take from it later – in the all-new special debuting November 30 on Netflix.
Instead of a malicious Grinch or a greedy Scrooge, DreamWorks is bringing families a Christmas story about good works… in the name of good-thieving fun. And friendship… can’t forget friendship.
“The Bad Guys are going to save Christmas to steal on Christmas,” notes Bret Haaland, director and executive producer of The Bad Guys: A Very Bad Holiday. “In a way, it’s pretty charming. They never try to hurt anyone, they’re just mischievous, which is a fun personality type to explore on the holidays.”
Produced by DreamWorks Animation and Scholastic Entertainment, The Bad Guys’ 22-minute seasonal special follows a story of the motley crew that predates the events of Pierre Perifel’s 2022 feature film. Once again based on the characters of Aaron Blabey’s kids’ graphic novel series, the special features notorious thieves Wolf (Michael Godere), Snake (Chris Diamantopoulos), Webs (Mallory Low), Shark (Ezekiel Ajeigbe), and Piranha (Raul Ceballos) who become concerned about the city-wide cancellation of Christmas, putting a pause on their annual holiday heist. The Bad Guys decide to do the unthinkable: reignite the city's holiday spirit by giving instead of taking, so that they may take later.
The special releases Thursday, November 30 on Netflix.
“Their idea of Christmas is a little skewed, and they don't quite see things the way all of us do,” admits Haaland.
“But the holidays, now that we're in this season, can kind of feel like a heist,” adds Katherine Nolfi, executive producer with Haaland and a writer on the special. “It's very go-go-go, and we wanted to keep that pace up in the film.”
The peppy pace was a good fit for a film not only about diabolic planning and sleight of hand, but also for a story about five characters that runs less than half an hour.
“Trying to figure out a way to tell a satisfying story in that timeframe that also highlights each of the characters definitely took some figuring out,” shares Nolfi, who isn’t just referring to the narrative of the story itself, but also to how the characters would move in order to keep up with the accelerated pace of the film.
“The way we rigged the characters and the meshes that we used, they’re all different this time,” notes Haaland. “We’re doing our version and our interpretation of these characters with the resources we have and the time that we have. We had a few meetings with the team from the first film and learned their philosophies, took their input and tried to shoehorn that into our budget.”
He continues, “We didn't want to have shots that were too long, like 15-20 seconds long, which you could do in a feature really well. You may notice the special is pretty fast-paced, and how it pops along when there’s a lot going on. We kind of danced around the parade crowd, as you might notice, because there aren't a lot of people animated in there. You do what you need to do.”
Not too dissimilar to The Bad Guys’ holiday crew, Haaland, Nolfi, and their team learned ways to cheat without getting caught.
“You pick your battles in the animation and put the effort where you can,” says Haaland. “Like with our snow tornado.”
When a snow machine goes haywire and starts freezing everything in sight, it eventually morphs into a snow tornado that threatens to damage the whole city, and it’s up to The Bad Guys to figure out a way to stop the not-so-natural disaster.
“When I saw that in the script, I was like, ‘Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute,’” remembers Haaland. "Fortunately, we have a great effects department. And we were also able to use a tornado animatic that had been previously created for both a regular tornado and a fire tornado. We doctored it up so that it became an ice tornado. And then you're constantly looking for ways to heighten the drama within the mind of the audience by reactions from the characters. We even spiced it up with an errant human being carried by the tornado off to his doom.”
But the most engaging detail of the film was, perhaps, Web’s Mecha Santa, who becomes the superhero of the day and fights the swirling tornado of ice and occasional human.
“The other writers and I were all really obsessed with this idea that Webs would love Santa Claus, and would think he's a criminal hero because he’s broken into so many houses and never been caught,” says Nolfi. “And then we were like, ‘Well, how would Webs show her love of Santa Claus?’ We thought she would want to redesign him in her own way. That’s where the Mecha Santa came from.”
Sporting spiked shoulder armor, crane claws for hands, and a cockpit complete with precision targeting for attack, Web’s Mecha Santa is a scrap metal work of terrifying art.
“I wanted it to be big and powerful, so I pushed to beef it up a bit as it was being designed,” says Haaland. “And then we got some interesting feedback from the guys who worked on the first feature, and they suggested that the Santa should have more of a cobbled-together look, as if Webs had found these parts, rather than something engineered perfectly like Iron Man.
Consequently, Mecha Santa is surprisingly reminiscent of the first Iron Man’s draft model when Tony Stark emerges from his prison cave in the original movie. “It’s a little rough around the edges but still impressive,” affirms Haaland.
There’s a lot of brainstorming that goes into every animated character model, even the most rough and disheveled of characters. And the special’s Santa Balloon 2.0, which eventually leads to Mecha Santa, will haunt many concept artists for years to come. Essentially, the need-to-know is that The Bad Guys wreck (by accident) the city’s beloved and oversized Santa Balloon, and they decided to try to create a new one to save Christmas.
As unconventional as Mecha Santa is, at least it wasn’t the horror show that this balloon was.
“This crew just kind of wings it with a lot of things in life and I don’t think they even realized how frightening their balloon was going to be,” says Haaland. “They definitely scared themselves, and they scared us.”
Nolfi adds, “I remember the day that our art director Jonathan Pyun showed us that design. It was so enjoyable, even though I pretty much had the same reaction that The Bad Guys had.”
The Santa Ballon 2.0 makes a few unwelcome appearances throughout the special, and each time The Bad Guys make a point to avoid it.
“We went through a few stages where we just kept saying, ‘Make it make it scarier,’ or ‘Make it more hideous,’” says Haaland. “We were really pushing it until, eventually, we were all getting a little sick ourselves.
Nolfi points out, “That’s how we knew we had it right.”
As much fun as Haaland and Nolfi had fun twisting – in some cases, literally – classic Christmas movie tropes with snappy writing and out-of-pocket dialogue, there were some traditions the filmmakers kept sacred.
“I do enjoy the little song that we have in there from Piranha,” says Haaland. “Raul is quite the singer. So, for those of you expecting a Christmas special with some music in it, yes, we have that too.”