By: Will Ashton (Three Beers) –
Babies are my kryptonite. Their pudgy little bodies, their adorably bloated cheeks, their wide, toothless grins — even a (mostly) heartless cynic like myself can’t help being transfixed by their newborn essence. Yet, even I found myself taken aback by The Boss Baby, DreamWorks Animation’s latest animated feature.
A jaunty, openly ridiculous premise which finds a literal baby as the literal boss of its newfound household, much to the dismay of its (slightly) older brother, it’s an outlandish, willfully cuckoo modern slice of family entertainment that is enticingly and distractingly absurd, a dementedly ludicrous movie that is, at first glance, either one of the most creative or one of the most off-puttingly berserk wide releases in ages. As one might expect, the final end product is, well, a bit of both; it’s the cinematic equivalent of a warm bottle met with a sharp smack on the bottom. If it’s not outright brilliant, it’s just plain bonkers.
In this wackadoodle scenario, Alec Baldwin, who’s channeling both Glengarry Glen Ross‘s stern-minded Blake and 30 Rock‘s bravado Jack Donaghy, is the Boss Baby, an infant with a well-polished suit, formal briefcase and the cigar-chopping voice of a husky, grizzled, 50-something high-management businessman. It calls to mind Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘s Baby Herman, only more dignified and not nearly as sexual. He’s mostly straight-laced and less likely to throw a hissy fit, so throw away your Trump comparisons now, but there’s a catch: it’s all inside the overactive imagination of Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi), the 7 1/2-year-old older sibling who finds his content little life shattered by the arrival of this wise-cracking tot.
To be clear: the baby is real, but the whole “baby boss” angle is stemmed from Tim’s developing mind. You see, in order to feed his unfulfilled creative mind, Tim creates wild jungles in his everyday backyard, or finds himself battling monsters, dastardly foes, and other baddies as his parents (Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy Kimmel) indulge their son’s blooming worldview. In his mind, the triangle they once formed was the perfect shape, the impervious formation that can’t be stopped by anyone. Or anything. So when he’s asked if he’d like a baby brother, the answer is, of course, “no.” His world is perfect. Why change it?
Well, the Boss Baby clearly isn’t one to follow orders. Callously calling the shots, taking the attention of the parents, all day and night, and generally being a nuisance in their previously clean-cut house, Tim knows he needs to eliminate the baby from the equation. Much to Tim’s surprise, however, the Boss Baby isn’t planning a permanent stay. Rather, he’s here on assignment, which involves exterminating a new breed of everlasting puppies, from a formula stolen from the world of business babies, which keeps them eternally newborn. Isn’t that mass genocide, you ask? Why yes, it basically is. Does The Boss Baby want to devolve into the ethics of killing a new species of animals threatening the cuteness of babies? Nope!
In order to stay out of each other’s way, Tim and the Boss Baby need to learn to work together. In the process, you can imagine how they learn to bond and love each another, even if it involves killing puppies. More or less. Again, The Boss Baby is a super duper bizarre movie. I need to put a lot of emphasis on that.
For what it’s worth, The Boss Baby is an inspired movie. From the ever-changing animation style, to the bubbly character designs, to the detailed backdrops, to the frenetic, free-wielding joke telling, director Tom McGrath (the Madagascar movies, Megamind) is clearly having a ball inside this oddball world. And it feels like his most personal film, too. From the inquisitive point of view of its rambunctious, if sometimes misunderstood, kid protagonist, it’s easy to imagine the filmmaker living in the same restless suburbanite world as this plucky kid. The opening 20 minutes, especially, are the director at his most wildly fantastical, and its fast, hyper-busyness is, admittedly, rather infectious at first. When this movie pops, it’s delightful.
The Boss Baby is a weird movie. I truly cannot stress that enough. Not since the Ralph Bakshi era have I seen animation this brazenly, actively strange. I can’t decide if that’s its best or worst virtue. The premise is kooky, rowdy, and totally idiosyncratic, and it’s thankfully well-aware of its unapologetic ridiculousness, but once you settle into the joke, there’s hardly enough mileage to carry it past the 60-minute mark. In fact, it pretty much wears out its welcome before the 30-minute mark, which results in this uncomfortable aforementioned plot involving our young lead characters trying to eliminate a new breed of superpuppies.
Perhaps The Boss Baby is a classic example of a rambunctious premise that works a whole lot better on paper than in actualization? Or maybe doubling down on the goofiness, in this case, wasn’t the way to go? It’s hard to say, since it’s clear McGrath is putting his heart into this one, as ill-advised as it can be, and it can, no doubt, be genuinely really funny, even at its most maniacal. There are running jokes involving piñatas, pirates, overgrown babies, pirates, Elvis impersonators, cookies “for closers”, and a Gandalf-esque alarm clock with parental advice that you’ll never see in a less audacious family picture. I admire McGrath for going all-out wild with this inherently nonsensical idea. If only the final product wasn’t so inconsistent.
Even with all its innovativeness, one can’t help but imagine the short film version of The Boss Baby, which likely would’ve contained all the boisterous follies without any of the added strain and weariness. Like the titular baby, I wanted a power nap at several points in the film, although I couldn’t take my eyes away from all the oversugared franticness that was bursting at the seams of each and every single frame. Forget The Boss Baby. This movie is The Busy Baby. It’s so overworked and overcompensating that it’s hard to really get invested past the enjoyable breeziness of the first act. Even a distraction-needing kid might find themselves ready to divert their attention to other, less demanding forms of entertainment. Like their toes, for instance, or maybe even the gum underneath their seat. The Boss Baby might drain you dry.
There’s nothing wrong with a film that’s positively stir crazy. The Lego Movie, for instance, is brisk, buoyant, and springy, yet it doesn’t necessarily take as much out of you. Much like November’s Trolls, The Boss Baby is reminiscent of DreamWorks Animation’s 2003-2007 era, where they would pound joke after reference after visual gag into your brain until they pummeled you into submission. You’re nullified by its sheer excess, and it’s shame to see a company that progressively learned to be more subdued and nuanced with the Kung Fu Panda trilogy or the How to Train Your Dragon films return to the type of fidgety hysteria that is attached to their name like a stigma. In another world, The Boss Baby is a killer opening short film. In our world, however, it’s an itchy, unruly, overlong, if mostly well-meaning effort that could use a nap.
The Boss Baby is as clever as it’s inane and senseless. The insanity attached to its crazy premise is as welcomed as it’s disagreeable, and it’s hard to figure out who, exactly, this movie is meant to appeal to. It’s filled with too many business/corporation jokes that’ll fly over the young, impressionable kiddies’ heads, yet it’s too quick to jump into bathroom jokes that it won’t consistently appeal to the adults. It’s a looney, usually cute, and sometimes charming family outing that, sadly, can’t manage its quirkiness.
The Boss Baby (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time someone says the word “baby.”
Take a Drink: every time they show the Boss Baby’s naked ass.
Take a Drink: every time you’re reminded of Toy Story, Men in Black, Glengarry Glen Ross, or another film.
Take a Drink: whenever something inexplicably weird is happening on-screen (play this one responsibly).