The Boss Baby (2017) 20th Century Fox/Comedy-Adventure RT: 97 minutes Rated PG (some mild rude humor) Director: Tom McGrath Screenplay: Michael McCullers Music: Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro Release date: March 31, 2017 (US) Cast: Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Miles Bakshi, Tobey Maguire, James McGrath, Conrad Vernon, ViviAnn Yee, Eric Bell Jr., David Soren, Edie Mirman.
I’ve been dreading this one for months. It looked horrible in the trailer. The title alone The Boss Baby made me think of one of those bad story ideas that get pitched to hit-seeking studio executives in comedies that skewer Hollywood (e.g. The Player). It also brought to mind Beck Bennett’s recurring Baby Boss character (a man with the body of a baby) on SNL, easily the most disturbing SNL character since Pat. Either way, it looked bad. They even give away the movie’s best line in the trailers and TV ads, the latter of which have been running for weeks ad nauseam. You know the one I’m talking about, right? Altogether now, “Cookies are for closers”. Well, the makers have to throw something in for the parents forced to sit through The Boss Baby with their wee ones. It’s not like Glengarry Glenn Ross is big among the grade school set.
In any event, I prepared myself for a painful experience. I endured a handful of trailers I’ve seen many times before. If I see the one for the new Smurfs movie one more time, I’ll scream. The movie started and then a funny thing happened. Not all at once but still. I began to enjoy The Boss Baby a little. It wasn’t exactly the movie I thought it would be. I mean, it has all the usual dumb jokes about potties and babies’ tushies. That always a given in movies aimed at kids. No, I’m talking about the narrative framework, the bigger picture if you will.
In terms of execution, The Boss Baby is actually rather clever. It’s told from the point-of-view of older brother Tim who, as an adult (former Spider-Man Maguire), recalls a crucial episode from his childhood. Seven-year-old Tim (Bakshi, grandson of Fritz the Cat director Ralph Bakshi) is a happy kid with an active imagination. Every day is an adventure for him. He enjoys a close relationship with his parents Ted (talk show host Kimmel) and Janice (Kudrow, Friends). Everything changes when his baby brother joins the family. He doesn’t arrive into the world in the usual way. He’s dropped off in front of the house by a taxi cab. Wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, it’s clear that this baby means business.
At some point, every kid asks his parents where babies come from. The Boss Baby provides an interesting explanation. They come from a place (presumably in Heaven) called Baby Corp. It’s a huge corporation where babies on conveyor belts are put through a tickle test to determine their place in the world. If they giggle, they’re sent to a family. If not, they’re promoted to management which is where Boss Baby (Baldwin, Blue Jasmine) finds himself. He’s sent down to Earth, in the guise of the newest member of the Templeton family, to deal with a crisis that could do serious harm to the baby-making business.
It seems that puppies are getting more love than babies. It’s about to get worse thanks to the evil machinations of Francis E. Francis (Buscemi, Monster House), the nefarious CEO of Baby Corp’s main competitor Puppy Co. Tim’s mom and dad happen to work for Puppy Co. Boss Baby has the perfect cover. Who would ever expect their infant son is a spy for the competition? The older brother, of course. Tim suspects something is off about his baby brother but his parents dismiss his concerns saying that he’ll come to love and accept him as his brother. Tim is the only one that knows Boss Baby talks and acts like an adult when nobody else is around. He holds meetings with other toddlers to discuss what needs to be done about the puppy situation. When Tim records one of their meetings, the babies wage all-out war (in the backyard) to stop him from handing the tape over to his parents.
Eventually, the two brothers strike a deal. Tim will help Boss Baby with his mission (which will earn him a major promotion if successful) but only to get rid of him. Once finished, Boss Baby will return to Baby Corp and Tim will have his parents to himself again.
Borrow a page of two from Pixar’s Inside Out, The Boss Baby gets inside the mind of a child and illustrates his deepest fear, the perceived loss of his parents’ affection. The movie plays on every kid’s anxieties over a new baby in the family, about how the tiny intruder will knowingly command all the attention and take over the house and their lives. It’s not as intelligent or intricately plotted as Inside Out. It’s not as hilarious either. It’s amusing which is far more than I actually expected from it. I like that the action scenes include references to classic TV shows like S.W.A.T. and The Six Million Dollar Man. I’m surprised they didn’t use the Mission: Impossible theme when Tim and Baby Boss infiltrate Puppy Co. headquarters and attempt to steal an incriminating file. There is a nice nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark though.
Baldwin’s vocal talents are a true highlight. He voices the titular character who often behaves like a miniature tyrant (like a certain President he regularly impersonates on SNL?). His vocal demeanor is calm with a detectable hint of malice. He’s like any ruthless adult businessman except for the noticeable difference in height. Buscemi is also good as the primary antagonist but I wanted a bit more from him. They’re the only voices that really stand out; the rest of the vocal cast does an adequate job.
The animation in The Boss Baby is colorful and vibrant. The movie is energetic and has several good ideas like the boys using an Elvis convention to sneak on a flight to Vegas. The central idea of babies vs. puppies is almost unbearably cute. The storyline plays out predictably, especially with the boys developing a brotherly bond as a result of working as a team. The Boss Baby is a testament to imagination mixed with a message about family. I didn’t expect the former; it’s the key reason the movie isn’t terrible. I say this about The Boss Baby. It’s hardly a future classic but it’s a nice alternative when Beauty and the Beast is sold out and you don’t want to just turn around and go home. It works better than it has a right to. Kids will enjoy it, parents won’t hate it.