The Boss Baby (2017)
He means business.
Loosely based on the 2010 picture book of the same name, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, The Boss Baby is actually a lot better than it looks. Admittedly, I wasn’t sold on its basic premise, the general concept pretty dim-witted if you ask me — a tiny tot arriving at his new home via taxi, dressed in full business attire and carrying a briefcase. Really?! Adding insult to injury, we later learn that this sharp-suited senior staff member is on an ‘undercover’ assignment, his mission to thwart a dastardly plot engineered by one Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi), a villainous dog company founder intent on launching a pooch so adorable, dubbed the Forever Puppy, that’s very existence could threaten to, well, put the ‘baby business out of business’ — because, who would wanna have a baby when you can have an ever-lasting puppy, right? Ummm, for one, I find neither babies nor puppies to be remotely ‘cute,’ and don’t even get me started on the sheer implausibility of the whole thing. Look, let’s just say I was ready to ‘hate on’ DreamWorks Animation’s newest computer-generated comedy without giving it a fair go.
To my surprise, however, The Boss Baby kinda grows on you, just like an unwanted younger brother or sister, filmmaker Tom McGrath — co-director of 2005’s Madagascar — milking this ridiculous storyline for all it’s worth, the film a colorfully fun and upbeat, yet silly, afternoon distraction, one that caters to both the young ’uns and those begrudging parents forced to take their children to the cinemas these Easter holidays. Penned by Michael McCullers, Baby Mama (2008), The Boss Baby opens with an ‘out-there’ where-babies-come-from type intro which details the film’s major conundrum, and that is, how an adult-like mind winds up trapped inside of a toddler’s shell, the fantastical Baby Corp headquarters (the company responsible for producing babies) much more inspired than the Baby Factory seen in last year’s Storks. And, as mentioned earlier, the titular Boss Baby (voiced brilliantly by Alec Baldwin), one day, waltzes straight out of the Baby Corp workplace and into the Templeton family’s life, this miniature executive masquerading as Timothy’s (Miles Bakshi) suckling younger brother, disrupting his happy-go-lucky, carefree days as an only child.
Discontent with the unexpected arrival of his new baby bro, whose eccentric behavior borders on suspicious, the 7-year-old tike senses that something is not quite right; alas, Timothy’s mom, Janice (Lisa Kudrow), and dad, Ted (Jimmy Kimmel), don’t take their son’s doubts and fears all too seriously as Tim was known to have an overly active imagination. Catching the Boss Baby on a work call late one evening, Tim discovers that the man-child can not only speak but is also an imposter, this corporate infant in the midst of on a high-priority take-down, tasked with stopping the release of abovementioned Forever Puppy, a soon-to-be marketed bushy-eyed tail-wagger that never grows old, the mini-man sent to the Templeton residency to spy on Tim’s mother and father, who (duh!) happen to be high-profile employees for Puppy Co. (the organization behind the mutt).
As the newborn Boss monopolizes all of Ted and Janice’s spare time and attention, a jealous Tim tries to expose the bub’s true identity, though this natural-born go-getter keeps on one-upping poor ol’ Timmy who, eventually becomes in danger of being ‘fired’ from his own family (how stupid). To Tim’s dismay, the Boss Baby’s failure would result in him living out the rest of his days with the Templeton’s, stranded there as a regular child; thus the pair are forced to ‘play nice’ in order to attain what they each desire — Tim, his parents’ undivided love, care and concern, and the Boss Baby, a promotion with a corner office and a private golden poop-pen.
Even with its straightforward and (somewhat) predictable story structure — the film a basic race-against-the-clock type yarn — McCullers’ witty screenplay is ‘right on the money,’ the script standing as one of The Boss Baby’s biggest assets. With a unique spin on sibling rivalry and hint of ‘The Secret Life of Babies’ thrown in for good measure, proceedings are never dull or insipid, meaning, there’s always something fun, inventive or down-right bizarre to gawk or chuckle at. And while The Boss Baby seems custom made for minors, with potty jokes and slapstick humor aplenty, there’s a ton of stuff for adults to enjoy as well, particularly some cheeky observations, these in the form of amusing scenes which shrewdly mix business with playtime — a covert meeting disguised as a playdate being an obvious one. Heck, mature-aged patrons may also revel in the many pop-culture references or winks to silver-screen classics — there’s an Indiana Jones send-up and a nod to the latest Mad Max — while a sly stab at the unaffordability of flying First Class certifies that not every quip is geared towards young ones, the film sharing an ironic likeness to the administrative ankle-biter himself — nipper crust, adult interior. Truth be told, it was an Elvis gag that really had me ‘all shook up’ — shakin’ in fits of laughter, that is. Moreover, McCullers also finds time to develop perceptive mythology (albeit far-fetched) behind certain baby products (think the miraculous in the mundane); the pacifier, for instance, gets a bit of a backstory — so now we know why babies suckle on those dummies for such a long period of time.
Directed by Tom McGrath, this veteran in animation (having helmed a handful of DreamWorks toons) ensures that each frame of his Boss Baby is chock-full of bright, gaudy visuals, the movie bursting with zany Looney Tunes energy — this sprightliness adding a strange sense of allure to the film’s overall absurdity. Furthermore, there are some clever heightened-reality sequences that combine 2D and 3D animation, these moments (scenes presented through Tim’s unique perspective) showcasing the power of imagination, with our protagonist transporting the action into the realm of the fantastical.
Alec Baldwin, Rise of the Guardians (2012), totally steals the show as the take-charge Baby Corp official, an upper management pen-pusher with an adorable exterior. Anchoring the picture, Baldwin (channeling his inner Donald Trump, no doubt) infuses the nappy wearing infantile with charm and smarts, selling the hardened nature of his corporate side along with the schmaltziness needed to pull off the third-act’s sentimentality. (At times, I could almost see the 59-year-old’s facial expressions peer through the babe’s cutesy crust.) Miles Bakshi makes his big-screen debut voicing Timothy Templeton — though, it’s a little jarring to hear the story narrated by a ripened Tobey Maguire (this odd voice-over choice corrected in the flick’s final scene) — with the skittish banter between Tim and Boss-BB elevating the material, the duo possessing a genuine brotherly bond.
Elsewhere, popular talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow, Easy A (2010), do a bang-up job voicing Tim’s clueless parents, Ted and Janice. Bringing other characters to life, we have the über-talented Steve Buscemi, Monsters, Inc. (2001), who imbues the embittered Puppy Co. CEO, Francis E. Francis, with megalomaniacal mirth, while Conrad Vernon, Shrek (2001), supplies plenty of grunts and groans as the sturdily built Eugene, Francis’ muscle/ right-hand man who, at one point, terrorizes our heroes dressed as a freakish Mary Poppins-style nanny. Finally, the film’s director, James McGrath, has a crack at voicing a couple of bit players, the most memorable being a Gandalf-like Wizard Alarm Clock named Wizzie, whose wise and chipper words of encouragement provide ‘round-the-clock’ levity.
Nonsensical at times yet moderately endearing, The Boss Baby is a delight — seriously, it’s way better than it has any right to be. While not in the same playpen as, say, Disney’s Moana (2016) or Pixar’s Toy Story (1995), this bite-sized entertainer still delivers the goods; it’s bound to appease the kiddies and their moaning and groaning parents — who’d probably be more keen to check out The Fate of the Furious (2017) playing right next door — the film succeeding as a pleasant pastime for the whole family.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner