Film Review: The Boss BabyAn outlandish, overly complicated premise that’s likely to confound the kiddies while it tries hard to get laughs from their parents.
With Alec Baldwin regularly portraying our 45th President on “Saturday Night Live,” it’s not hard to imagine him as a business-suited baby that likes bossing everyone around. In other words, whoever came up with the idea for DreamWorks Animation’s latest, The Boss Baby—actually based on a 2013 children’s book by Marla Frazee—must have some amazing ability of foresight, indeed.
Directed by Tom McGrath, mastermind of the Madagascar movies (and the voice of Skipper the penguin), The Boss Baby introduces us to seven-year-old Tim (Miles Bakshi) and his parents (Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow), a loving family who are expecting a new arrival. Just as you think your kids are about to learn where babies come from in a very awkward way, we’re transported to BabyCorp, where the film’s toddler protagonist (Baldwin), deemed to have potential above and beyond that of normal babies, is sent to “Management.”
When this super-smart toddler arrives at Tim’s house, Tim is immediately put out by the attention his new, business-attired baby brother is getting. The animosity increases when he discovers that the tot can talk and has somewhat nefarious plans to take down PuppyCorp, where Tim’s parents both work, as they’re a company in the process of creating an adorable puppy that will horn in on the love normally heaped on adorable babies.
Needless to say, this is a very weird movie.
It might take some time to wrap your head around the rather strange premise, because so much needs to be explained, like how this unnamed “boss baby” needs a spcial formula to be able to talk and think like an adult. There’s less explanation as to why Tim’s alarm clock talks like Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or why The Beatles’ “Blackbird” is overused as a plot device—tiringly so, because it always cuts off before the last “blackbird fly” line is sung.
Otherwise, voicing a world-savvy toddler isn’t a bad role for Baldwin. The character is already visually humorous, and the animation team embellishes his dialogue with lots of great facial expressions, especially when the character is egging Tim on by hogging all of their parents’ attention. The clear highlight of this movie-long gag is when other babies arrive at Tim’s house for a play date that’s actually a "business meeting."
McGrath fills the movie with wall-to-wall gags, some more clever than others, but also a lot of pop culture references that won’t connect with anyone under 30. While some of the best elements are clearly influenced by "Looney Tunes," including the animation style, there are also the typical, overused gags we’ve come to expect from DreamWorks Animation: slow motion and big explosions used for easy laughs and, of course, the bathroom humor that always goes over so well with the youngest of kids. At least in this case, having so many babies in the movie makes the last part somewhat forgivable. All the same, you have to wonder if maybe McGrath has been working in the DreamWorks realm a little too long.
Scatological humor aside, there just isn’t a lot here for kids, for whom this movie is presumably meant, other than a few colorful, fast-paced chase sequences. That’s ultimately the movie’s undoing, because some parents may feel it goes too far with some of the more questionable jokes.
On the flip side, there’s certainly something good to say about the way The Boss Baby tries to teach kids to be accepting of their new, younger siblings. Trying to win audiences over with snuggly emotional warmth is more of what we’ve come to expect from Pixar, though, and this DreamWorks effort is clearly a failed attempt to replicate what worked so well in movies like Inside Out and the Toy Story trilogy.
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