Synopsis – A suit-wearing briefcase-carrying baby pairs up with his seven-year old brother to stop the dastardly plot of the CEO of Puppy Co.
My Take – Films from DreamWorks Animation have mostly been filled with mixed bags, despite having some solid hits on their hands in the recent years like the Kung Fu Panda films; their quality has always been below the standards set by Disney or Pixar. Going into this film, I had a preconceived notion that this was going to be bad, as I had seen a couple trailers and immediately was not sold, plus judging from the marketing I didn’t find it humorous with too many pandering fart jokes and “baby cuteness” fluff, sure the film seemed like another example of how incredible the animation technology has become, but somehow the style looked fairly generic, and the story seemed uninspired. Glad fully, the film’s story was well executed, surprisingly; the tale has many layers to it and has more than enough wry humor to entertain adults too. The film is creative and somewhat imaginative, and I like the way the filmmakers tell its story. Right away I got the sense that it’s all symbolism for how a child deals with accepting a new baby brother. You of course have to watch it all the way till the end though, to know for sure. Young (and young at heart) will enjoy the simplistic comedy that involves the characters dropping mindless (meme-worthy) one liners, various screams of fear, and dopey run-ins with a wall. The real comedic diamonds though are the cleverer puns, one-liners, and adult references hidden in this film. Alec Baldwin‘s sarcastic delivery and edginess worked for me, adding just the right touches to maximize the laughs. Yet, I’m a sucker for all the film references integrated into this plot and how key they were to the adventure. And if you are nerd like me, you may get an extra thrill keeping your eye out for the next reference.
Based on the award-winning picture book by Marla Frazee, the story follows Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) is a typical 7-year-old, who has an active imagination, loves to play with his parents and is generally very happy with the way everything in his life is. But everything changes when his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) step out of a taxi cab, enter the family home, and introduce Tim to his brand new baby brother and Tim quickly feels neglected. For example, his former bedtime ritual of both of his parents coming to his room to read him stories, sing him a special song and hug and kiss him goodnight turns into both of them running up and down the hall towards the baby’s room and then passing out from exhaustion on the living room couch. But not only does Tim resent the new baby, he becomes suspicious of him, as the baby doesn’t seem to be acting like a regular baby and its turns out that he is right as he catches the baby talking in complete sentences – on a (toy) telephone! Tim confronts the baby and the baby answers him! This Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin) tells Tim that he’s on an undercover mission for Baby Corp., the company which produces and distributes babies all over the world. Boss demands that Tim helps him and promises him that once his job is done, he’ll leave Tim’s house for good. Tim’s parents work for Puppy Co, which is developing a new kind of puppy that will cut into the amount of family love available to babies more than any previous puppy model before it. With Tim’s help (and the help of other babies – voiced by Conrad Vernon, Eric Bell Jr., ViviAnn Yee and David Soren – whose parents also work at the company), Baby plans to infiltrate Puppy Co, find out what they’re working on, and stop the company and their CEO (Steve Buscemi) from turning any more baby love into puppy love. If all this sounds a little far-fetched, you’re absolutely right; in fact, these events are happening inside the mind of a wildly imaginative only child, who concocts this elaborate scenario as an analogy of how his newborn sibling is usurping the time, attention and love of his parents. The basic premise of the film is undeniably an appealing and relatable one: the anxiety, uncertainty and even fear that a child faces when he is no longer the only kid in the family, especially given the demands and concessions that a newborn places on his or her parents’ time. Turning that into a vivid fantasy with the newborn becoming a literal ‘boss’ not just of the family but also of an entire baby-making operation that views puppies as their number one enemy sounds ingenious, but the execution through hijinks-driven slapstick gags ultimately reduces it to generic hyperactive fare that too many animated comedies these days are guilty of. The film is fabulously directed by Tom McGrath, who you might recognize from his work on all three Madagascar films and the underappreciated Megamind. According to whom the film is partially an apology letter to his own brother for all the grief he put him in when they were young. Of course telling the entire yarn from Timmy’s POV proves a double-edged sword at times and the film goes through great pains to deliver the stakes needed to elevate its one-joke premise. Because most of it happens inside Tim’s head (who narrates the story as an adult voiced by Tobey Maguire), director Tom McGrath and screenwriter Michael McCullers get plenty of leeway to let their own imagination run wild. That includes conceiving conception as coming off an assembly line, where babies are diapered, powdered and sorted into ‘Family’ or ‘Management’ depending on how they respond to stimuli. That also involves throwing corporate politics into the mix, where the Boss Baby’s mission success decides whether he gets promoted to CEO, upgrades to a huge office of his own complete with a private toilet, and joins the ranks of his idol ‘Super Colossal Big Fat Boss Baby’.
The late introduction of Francis E. Francis shifts the proceedings into hyper drive, and like ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ or ‘The Croods’, delivering loud frenetic action becomes the priority in the third and final act. From the point Tim and the Boss Baby sneak into Puppy Co’s company headquarters on ‘Bring Your Kids to Work’ Day, it is one non-stop action sequence after another as the unlikely duo evade Francis’ henchman within their suburban neighborhood en route to the airport, smuggle on board a plane full of Elvis impersonators bound for Vegas, and stop the rocket countdown from a Vegas convention center before the ‘Forever Puppies’ overrun the globe. All that feverish to-and-fro comes at the expense of heart, humor or even neglecting the simple truth behind all that fantasy, i.e. that Tim’s just plain terrified that he is being replaced – and that not even a supposedly heartwarming resolution that has Tim finally embrace his baby brother and the latter ‘family-hood’ can compensate for. I like the character development between the main character & the baby. Seeing them; eventual affirmative to sibling bonding and familial love makes the film, a little bit more bearable. There is a clear message about the value of brotherhood and the fact that there is enough love for everyone in a family. With surprising detail and character development, the story is very entertaining and fun as baby and brother try to stop the dastardly puppies from taking over. And the best part is the whole adventure is fun and fast paced, with seldom a boredom moment in this fast-moving flick. Despite how much I enjoyed the story, much of it is still predictable. Sure the film has some surprising twists, but no manner of fun, can hide the blatantly obvious ending that is to come. While predictability is difficult to avoid, the film could have tidied things up a bit to give the finale a little more flare. In addition, they could have worked hard to not be so preachy near the end about the importance of family and all that lovey-dovey mush that animation films do all the time. Although fun, this ridiculousness didn’t fit so much into the grand scheme of the plot. Next up is Babycorp, the organization the boss baby works for. This large plot point has dramatic build up and gets a large sequence to explain the wonders of this magnificent corporation. Yet after that, the film fails to deliver more on the potential plot points that could have come with it. Had the trailers not built up the baby vs. puppy rivalry as they did, I could have let this go, but with all the advertising I would have liked to see more of this. The talented voice cast delivers solid performances and the computer animation lives up to the high standards that Film Fans expect from DreamWorks films. Alec Baldwin voices this character with great panache, it’s his witty personality mixed with a take-charge attitude bursts through the screen. I feel that Baldwin‘s voice talent in this is one of the key reasons this film shines. Steve Buscemi is great as Francis Francis. Jimmy Kimmel is awesome as Dad. Lisa Kudrow is brilliant as Mom. Tobey Maguire is amazing as Adult Tim/Narrator. Miles Bakshi is mind blowing as Tim. On the whole, ‘The Boss Baby’ is a fun and lighthearted animated film which despite its simplicity & silliness is surprisingly fun thanks to its voice talent.
Directed – Tom McGrath
Rated – PG
Run Time – 97 minutes