The Boss Baby
2017, PG, 97 min. Directed by Tom McGrath. Voices by Alec Baldwin, Miles Christopher Bakshi, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Tobey Maguire, Eric Bell Jr., ViviAnn Yee.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., March 31, 2017
Imagine Wall Street corporate hotshot Gordon Gekko merging with toddler Stewie Griffin in The Family Guy and you have The Boss Baby, right down to the briefcase, Rolex watch, and black sock garters. (Of course, Michael Douglas never wore a diaper.) This retro-vibed DreamWorks feature (is that a TV dinner?) about a 7-year-old boy named Tim, grappling with the loss of his only-child status upon the unwelcome arrival of a baby brother, is like so many other high-concept, computer-animated comedies these days: clever, funny, and inventive, but lacking in an emotionally accessible storyline. Loosely based on a 2010 children’s book illustrated by Maria Frazee, the film takes a tummy-tickling concept – the literal infantilization of selfish and demanding adult behavior – and attaches fantastic plot threads involving the secret machinations of mega-companies like Baby Corp. (didn’t last year’s flightless Storks cover this same ground?) and Puppy Co. until its satiric edge is dulled by 10-gags-a-minute pacing and goo-goo gaga gooeyness. At first, you’re led to think (hope?) that the film’s downsized tyke-in-chief may be the product of Tim’s overactive imagination. Maybe the far-fetched narrative, in which the two rivaling siblings team up to thwart a nefarious plot to replace adorable moppets who grow up to become brats with adorable genetically engineered canines that never age, is something playing out inside the young boy’s head as he attempts to cope with the Templeton family triangle unexpectedly taking a rectangular shape, similar to the pre-adolescent internalizations of the brilliantly conceived and executed The LEGO Movie and Inside Out. But no: It’s all meant to be taken literally. Without something substantial to hold on to, the movie’s chubby little fingers lose their grip on the possibility of something to remember after the credits roll.
Not surprisingly, the best thing about The Boss Baby is Baldwin’s imperious vocalization as the authoritative rugrat with a head the size of a bowling ball, punctuated by Margaret Keane eyes. Of course, he had a lot of practice doing this kind of stuff in the role of network executive Jack Donaghy on television’s 30 Rock. Baldwin can make business vernacular like “exit interview,” “severance package,” and “per diem” sound deliciously unctuous, and even a bit little bit PG-rated. “If people really knew where babies come from, they’d never have one,” Baldwin mock-sadly intones as the titular tot. “Same thing with hot dogs.” Kids say the darnedest things.