Over the weekend, DreamWorks Animation The villains became the new box office champion, surpassing Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets and sonic the hedgehog 2 with a domestic haul of $24 million and an A CinemaScore from moviegoers. Kick off a wave of positive reviews for the new movie based on Aaron Blabey’s animated book series, and it looks like The villains is an original animation hit for DreamWorks.
For Blabey, who has sold more than 30 million children’s books largely thanks to the launch of The villains series in 2015, it’s both an unlikely success story and a kind of fulfilled prophecy. 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 villains was born in part because he gave himself an ultimatum as an author working a series of day jobs to keep his family afloat. It was simple: at the age of 40, he either came up with an idea that would make him a full-time writer, or he gave himself up to a corporate job.
Blabey quickly came up with several concepts that would later become books, including The villains, a gang of anthropomorphized animal criminals who decide 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 movies 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 these ideas came together on a walk through the countryside in 2014, and when I wrote down the idea with all the character names, I texted a friend and said, ‘Wha ‘do you think?’ and she was like, ‘It looks like a DreamWorks movie,'” Blabey recalled. “We both laughed and I forgot about it until I found myself in Hollywood talking to all the studios and being at DreamWorks.”
Now one of Blabey’s last-ditch ideas – now 14 pounds, with the 15th Bad guys graphic novel due out in July – is a blockbuster movie with a chance of becoming a blockbuster movie franchise. The author, who has 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 is the best Bad Guy.
“[Readers] contact me. Mr Piranha [voiced by Anthony Ramos in the film] has generally been a fan favorite as he is probably the funniest of the bunch. My favorite has always been Mr. Snake [Marc Maron] because he’s the most complicated of the bunch, and the one who struggles the most,” Blabey said. “He’s kind of like a recovering alcoholic, he tries to stay on the path with the other guys, but he keeps on fall and they keep trying to help him. The journey is more of a struggle for him.
“I think the fundamental relationship between Mr. Wolf [Sam Rockwell], who is optimistic despite his situation, and Snake, who is pessimistic, create a relatable tension that my kids loved from the start and it seems other kids got it too. Their relationship is messy and complicated, like real-life relationships between people, which is pretty rare in books aimed at the 6-12 market. My kids have always loved it [complexity]. It didn’t seem ‘kiddie’ to them. It was as if they were treated like little adults who could understand things. That said, my own kids, who are now 14 and 16, also love Piranha because he’s the funniest.”
The villains is now in theaters.