The Boss Baby and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation
Directed by Tom McGrath
Well gee, THIS sure looks like a gem. Just… why? Wasn’t Storks enough!? How many baby movies do we NEED!? Look, the trailers were terrible, the premise is hacky, and the casting of Alec Baldwin as a talking baby seemed like something you would do in a Saturday Night Live sketch. Point being that NOTHING about this movie didn’t look like the cynical machinations of Hollywood hacks and I was not looking forward to it. Still, movies have managed to surprise me in the past, and it’s not like this could be as bad as it looks… right? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with little Timothy Templeton (Miles Chirstopher Bakshi) who’s the only child of Ted and Janice Templeton (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) and he loves all the attention that he gets because of it. Unfortunately for Tim, daddy forgot their condom… I mean the secret agency of babies in the sky is sending down one of their agents (Alec Baldwin) and he now has to deal with a new boss in the house. Get it? Because babies are so BOSSY and DEMANDING? Cheeky metaphor aside, it turns out that the baby is here for a specific reason and not just to fuck with Timmy. Apparently the secret agency of babies in the sky are under threat by an incoming invasion of super cute puppies (okay…) and The Boss Baby ends up needing Tim-Tim’s help in order stop them. If the duo can stop the super cute puppies (so I guess they have to kill them?), he’ll go back to the secret agency of babies in the sky, and he’ll go back to being an only child. Can the siblings put aside their rivalry long enough to ensure they never have to see each other again? Will The Boss Baby learn something about family on this ridiculous journey to destroy puppies? Why… why does this movie want us to dislike puppies!?
On the plus side, this movie isn’t QUITE as terrible as the trailers would have you believe which if you think about it is actually true for most awful films. A trailer can only show so much which means it has to go with what the filmmakers believe are the “highlights” and there are plenty of places in the rest of the movie where SOMEONE can do at least ONE thing right. That’s basically the case here where there are a scant few things to enjoy about this, but for the most part it’s an oddly bizarre form of Pablum. There’s actually a lot going on in this movie that’s only hinted at in the trailers with some far out there concepts about the way the universe works, how love is a finite and measurable resource, and enough Magical MacGuffins to fill a Paper Mario game. Despite all this though, it’s just dull and not especially funny which the strangeness of the premise can only do so much to compensate for and all we end up with is yet another Dreamworks film, albeit on the lower end of their catalog.
If I were being EXTREMELY generous to this movie, it’s yet another failed attempt to try and be the next Calvin and Hobbes as the trailers really don’t get across the TRUE aesthetic sensibilities of this film which falls more in line with Calvin’s fantastical escapades that we see from his perspective… even though we know he’s just sitting in a cardboard box. In fact, the most… let’s use the word INTERESTING, aspect about this movie is just how much it tramples on the Diegesis of the film. Now for those of you who haven’t learned all the fancy film terms (or don’t watch Lindsey Ellis videos), a film’s Diegesis BASICALLY the internal world and rules that are established within in. Anything that the characters themselves experience and is part of the story being told is Diegetic, while Non-Diegetic elements are more for the benefit of the audience with the most basic example being the soundtrack. Unless there is someone or something is ACTUALLY playing the song in a scene, chances are that the characters in the story do not hear that song. Now the most common way of fudging with the boundary between Diegetic and Non-Diegetic is breaking the fourth wall and calling attention to the elements that the characters shouldn’t be aware of, but it can also include moments that are more symbolic in nature such as musical numbers. In those cases, there’s a level of unreality that’s layered on top of the more literal interpretation of events (Sweeney Todd probably isn’t ACTUALLY singing to his clients, but he DID cut their hair and murder them in the Johanna reprise) and this is where The Boss Baby at least does something INTERESTING even if it’s not particularly GOOD. The movie operates on multiple levels of reality (by the end I’m guessing around three or four) but unlike something like Sucker Punch where the layers in and of themselves had meaning connections… it’s just a giant hodgepodge of ideas that don’t make any sense and are haphazardly delineated.
There are some parts where we get into Timothy’s imagination which are heavily stylized and visually distinct from everything else going on (the parts that most resemble a Calvin and Hobbes excursion), but then there’s over the top imaginative sequences that AREN’T visually distinct from everything else but is still not to be taken literally… and then there’s a big chase to the airport where a seven year old on a bicycle would have to be going at least thirty five miles per hour that can’t be anything BUT a literal interpretation of events considering getting to the airport is part of the plot. In a way it KIND of works, especially since the whole the movie starts with a grown Timothy doing voice over which means we’re probably dealing with an unreliable narrator, but the movie just doesn’t have enough going for it in terms of writing to take full advantage of the free pass they’ve written for themselves to do whatever the hell they wanted. For every brief glimpse into something greater like the chase scene to the airport (the henchman Eugene is the best thing about this movie by the way), there’s a dozen terrible gross out or cute baby jokes that drags it all down.
On top of that, the haphazard nature of the narrative, which would be perfect for a movie that did a much better job of delivering on the humor, is not all that helpful for building any sort of emotional connection which they’re clearly trying (and failing) to do here. I mean, I GUESS you could say that Timothy is a realistic portrayal of a seven year old, but that doesn’t make for a compelling character. You know what? Scratch that. This is NOT a realistic portrayal of a seven year old boy! Sure, you can see glimpses of selfishness and YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE, but it always feels tempered lest he come off as too unlikable. He doesn’t have to be a Bart Simpson kind of brat, but I buy a character like Bart or even Calvin much more than Timothy because the flaws they display are ACTUAL flaws; not the occasional outburst that is framed as sympathetic due to the changing circumstances. In the whole movie, there’s only three characters that have any sort of life to them and those are the two villains revealed towards the end of the movie as well as Alec Baldwin as the titular Boss Baby. Sure, it comes off as a role he would take as a joke in another movie (like how Adam Sandler spent the decade after making Funny People making the exact movies Funny People was making fun of), but the guy’s at least trying to work with what he has and the effort makes his character one of the few that actually stands out.
Everything else is pretty much just okay. How’s the animation? It’s okay. Like the writing for the characters, I feel their designs have been scrubbed of any real personality, but it has moments where it shines such as when Timothy starts to use his imagination (the stylized fantasy sequences) or even when things get super wacky. Even though I was itching to get out of the theater by the time we got into the third act which includes an impromptu trip to Las Vegas (ugh…), the movie moves along at a solid enough pace and manages to wrap up before it overstays its welcome. Speaking of the ending, while the final twist that reveals the framing device is decent enough, the resolution for The Boss Baby and Timothy’s relationship didn’t feel earned. I don’t buy that The Boss Baby would make the fateful decision he does at the end and it only happens because the movie has to follow the predefined formula of every other freaking “FAMILY MOVIE” out there.
As far as lousy animated films go, this honesty isn’t THAT bad as I didn’t actively hate it while watching it (*cough* Ratchet & Clank *cough*), so while I really can’t recommend it… well, you could definitely do worse. Dreamworks may not be Disney, Studio Ghibli, or even Williams Street, but they’ve managed to carve out a highly profitable niche by putting out middle of the road and mostly competent features like this one. Sometimes they have a genuine spark of inspiration like How to Train Your Dragon or even Megamind, but far too often, GOOD ENOUGH is good enough. This may not be good enough for me, but watch this movie break 200 million in its first two weeks. Oh well. At least we have Captain Underpants to look forward to, right?