Over-imaginative seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) sees his perfect family life shattered when his parents (Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy Kimmel) bring home a baby brother. In Tim’s head the new addition, known only as Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), is a suited, briefcase-carrying CEO hell-bent on ousting Tim in his parents’ affections. Yet Boss Baby has his own mission to carry out…
If Alec Baldwin playing a petulant, business-obsessed baby who whips up a whirlwind in a white house feels a deliciously resonant idea in Trumpworld, it’s perhaps best to remember the wheels of computer animation grind slowly. Based on Marla Frazee’s 2010 children’s book, The Boss Baby was in production far too long to channel Baldwin’s spot-on SNL impression. Instead, it offers a frenetic, intermittently visually arresting, mostly unfunny re-spin of the Toy Story dynamic: chiefly a self-absorbed character has his nose put out of joint by a braggart but has to form an unlikely alliance to save the day.
The Boss Baby is hopped up on energy but never harnesses it effectively.
There is an obvious metaphor at the heart of the story that parents will recognise: babies enter the family business and start running the household like a megalomaniac tycoon, disrupting routines, wielding whims and displacing old-timers, in this case seven-year-old big brother Tim, now relegated in his parents’ priorities. Yet the way The Boss Baby engages with the idea is distancing rather than engaging. As set up in a slick opening ten minutes, Tim is a kid with a sprightly imagination — dinner is a jungle adventure, going downstairs a voyage under the sea — and the arrival of the new baby is parlayed as a hostile corporate takeover. Rather than just invent a world where a baby can be a talking business hard-ass (in the way Family Guy gives no explanations for Stewie), what we are watching is all in Tim’s head, so immediately the action is at arm’s length. It’s hard to invest when what you are watching is one 97-minute flight of fantasy.
It then doesn’t help that the imagined mythos of The Boss Baby is convoluted and mechanical. The Boss Baby is on a mission from Baby Corp, the (visually splendid) heavenly factory where all infants come from, to uncover new intel on Forever Puppy, an engineered everlasting pooch designed to divert the love away from children. As Tim realises The Boss Baby will leave when he completes the mission, the film becomes a buddy picture as the mismatched duo put differences aside to find the Forever Puppy. Cue an unfunny break-in into a pet expo, a baddie who wants to destroy the world, a magic formula that keeps people from growing up and obvious messaging about the need for sharing and love.
In places, it has visual panache, some fun gags (a charming talcum powder fart joke) and delivers an exciting set-piece in a garden chase scored to the ’70s cop show S.W.A.T. theme. As is the DreamWorks way, it also features some of the most random referencing, from The Apartment to Raiders to The Six Million Dollar Man. It’s a scattershot approach that informs the entire film. The Boss Baby is hopped up on energy but never harnesses it effectively. There are laughs and heart buried in this idea somewhere. Shame the film is too hyperactive to find them.
The Boss Baby has interesting visual textures, a few good jokes and Baldwin has fun. But these elements never transcend an odd premise that fails to deliver big laughs or emotional heft.