He’s a boss and a baby. He’s a Boss Baby. The Boss Baby pitch meeting could not have been much simpler than that, but I guess that wouldn’t give credit to the original children’s picture book by Marla Frazee. Of course, that book is only 36 pages (and I’m sure The Bossier Baby isn’t much longer), where this DreamWorks computer-animated movie needs to fill at least 90 minutes. That was apparently a struggle and it shows. While the novelty of the premise is one thing, sitting through this entire feature didn’t exactly have me wishing for a promotion to sit even higher among the other boss babies of the world.
The film takes Alec Baldwin away from his unexpected job of occasionally spoofing President Boss Baby to filling in the voice of an actual Baby in the role of a boss. This is quite literal, as the opening of the film shows a series of babies arriving from above in a manner similar to last year’s Storks. Some babies simply come down and take a place within their families, while a select few are apparently chosen for a corporate gig.
This is all communicated to us through Tim Templeton, voiced as an adult by Tobey Maguire. He narrates what it was like to gain a new baby brother and the trials and tribulations that came with it. These events included sibling rivalry and a plot by the devious CEO of Puppy Co. (Steve Buscemi) to destabilize the balance of love in the world.
It’s unfortunate that only the sibling rivalry portion works. Given the film’s clear idea of exploring what it means to add a member to the family and how that alters the level of attention given to the older child, fun naturally comes from this. There are a number of fun scenes showing how these two children playfully spar and try to get the better of each other in front of their parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow).
Director Tom McGrath (of the Madagascar film series) gets a lot of mileage out of the ridiculousness of a baby wearing a suit and talking like an Alec Baldwin businessman-type who happens to be voiced by Alec Baldwin. McGrath also finds good territory to explore in depicting a child’s imagination. I couldn’t help but be reminded of kids’ shows like Rugrats when the film split between reality and the imagined version of how their days were going down.
The plotting of this film is what ultimately pushes things downward. Rather than keep things simple enough with a brother vs. brother storyline, with the added silliness of no adult questioning why this baby wears a suit (or where he came from), the film insists on taking things to a much grander level with this whole puppy plot. It’s good for a gag, but to set the whole back half of the film around Buscemi’s wacky CEO character never really took off as far as the fun was concerned. It goes from being one of DreamWorks’ more warmhearted animated features to one of their more generic ones.
Of course, that seems to be the limitations of a film that relies heavily on the one joke concept of a boss that’s a baby. While I’m all for the hilarious concept of putting Glengarry Glenn Ross jokes into an animated kids movie, it needs more than little touches like that. I genuinely enjoyed what it set up and was interested in seeing where it could go, but the screenplay simply runs out of gas. The idea is there to keep moving the plot further, but the number of good couldn’t keep up.
It’s not Baldwin’s fault, who seems to relish the chance to add another memorable character to his resume. The sort of whispery intensity that he used for pseudo-serious conversation to great effect in 30 Rock is back in full force here. Kudos also goes to Miles Christopher Bakshi, who voices the older brother and captures the spirit needed. I never know who gets to record with whom (if at all) in these movies, but the two have good chemistry.
Other expectations are met as well. The animation is decent enough as far as these major studio animated films are concerned, as it leans heavily on the cartoony-side. Given the use of imagination to add another layer, there is some fun coming from that aspect as well. Credit also goes to Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro for putting together a pretty solid score (the ending is far more affecting than it really deserves to be because of this). The limitations are certainly not in production value, I only wish the film aimed higher than merely being colorful enough to hold the attention of its young target audience.
I’m all for a bit of silliness in animated movies that lean heavily on pleasing the kids over the adults, but there are better films that handle that sort of execution. I’m happy to give those films a promotion, but The Boss Baby needed to go back to the drawing board. There are some clever touches and Baldwin’s presence is not wasted, but dressing up a bland film in a suit still leaves you with a bland film.