The Boss Baby is generic animated fare, but it's bolstered by a unique visual flair and important lessons for children in the audience.
Tim Templeton (Miles Bakshi) is a 7-year old kid with an overactive imagination living the dream. As an only child, he receives the undivided attention of his loving parents Ted (Jimmy Kimmel) and Janice (Lisa Kudrow), including a bedtime routine of three stories, five hugs, and one special song. Tim's ultimate desire is for it to be the three of them forever, which is why his life gets turned upside down with the arrival of a new baby brother. Tim instantly becomes jealous of the infant, who basically takes over the house with his constant demands and everyone tries to adjust.
The senior Templetons are infatuated by the baby's cuteness, but Tim is incredibly suspicious of his suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying sibling. Trying to discover the truth behind the family's newborn, Tim is startled to discover that the baby can talk like a fully-grown adult (Alec Baldwin) and is conducting business on a secret mission. Introducing himself as the "Boss Baby," Tim's brother reveals he was sent from Baby Corp. to stop the launch of a new product from Puppy Co., which would severely limit the amount of love in the world for babies. Tim agrees to help Boss in his quest, so the baby can receive a top-notch promotion at his job and Tim's life can be restored back to normal.
The Boss Baby is the latest feature from DreamWorks Animation, the studio behind the Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon series (among others). It is directed by Tom McGrath, who co-helmed DreamWorks' lucrative Madagascar franchise, so the hope going into Boss Baby was that it could be a solid piece of entertainment for the family that delivers laughs and a touching story. On that front, the movie is mostly successful. The Boss Baby is generic animated fare, but it's bolstered by a unique visual flair and important lessons for children in the audience.
Screenwriter Michael McCullers, known primarily for his work in live-action comedy with the Austin Powers series, penned the Boss Baby script, and it's safe to say it's what audiences probably expected when they first heard of the project. The main narrative runs a little thin and follows a rather predictable trajectory, but it's still generally strong in its execution. In particular, the world-building is somewhat creative, imagining a place where babies and puppies are embroiled in a war for affection against one another. McGrath has fun playing with the rules of this universe, fully immersing himself in the fantasy element to showcase things like babies that never grow up. The screenplay lacks the subtext viewers have seen in other animated films, but the tale of two brothers is enjoyable enough and has some moments of sweet sentimentality.
On a technical level, McGrath takes advantage of the benefits of the animation realm when constructing the elaborate playtime fantasies that go on in Tim's head. The director really captures the spirit of being a kid, as the young protagonist runs through the childhood gauntlet that sees him pretend to be everything from a ninja to a pirate. These sequences are fun to watch and inventive in their style, rendering the "real world" through the perception of an energetic boy whose mind runs rampant with the possibilities. There are some nice comedic bits that juxtapose what goes on in Tim's head with what the parents see (especially a backyard "car chase"), and they only get more extravagant as the film moves along. Running at just over an hour and a half, McGrath also does a good job of establishing a pace, meaning The Boss Baby never overstays its welcome.
Fortunately, the interesting visuals are complemented by a pair of satisfactory leads that carry the movie on their shoulders. Baldwin is the clear star as the Boss Baby, doing an amusing riff on his Jack Donaghy persona from 30 Rock (plus a nod to Glengarry Glen Ross). Granted, the schtick of the actor's voice coming out of the mouth of an adorable toddler loses some of its impact throughout the course of the movie, but Baldwin does a good job in the role. The same can be said for Bakshi as Tim, whose turn here can be a valuable teaching tool for families going through a similar situation (i.e. a newborn baby). The arcs of the brothers Templeton can be seen coming from a mile away, but they nevertheless feel earned as the characters spend a majority of their screen time in each other's company and form a bond.
The supporting cast isn't as lucky. Kimmel and Kudrow's parts are fairly thin as the basic parents who care about their children and only want what's best for them. Steve Buscemi has a small role as Puppy Co. CEO Francis Francis, but he too isn't given all that much to do. In fact, the meatiest secondary character is Tobey Maguire, who voices the adult Tim narrating the story. Maguire is able to inject his natural charm and humor into his performance, but the movie's reliance on the voice over - particularly early on - comes across as largely unnecessary, as The Boss Baby falls victim to the trap of telling, not showing. These shortcomings are excusable, however, since the bulk of the film is about the two young brothers, and McGrath rightfully places them in the spotlight.
In the end, The Boss Baby won't win any prizes for being the next great animated film, but it nevertheless gets the job done and mainly accomplishes what it sets out to do. Its target audience is definitely the juice box crowd (as opposed to the entire family, like some of Pixar's best efforts), but both parents and kids should get a small kick out of Tim and Boss' exploits if the children are eager to see it. Again, Boss Baby is not revolutionary in any way, but it makes for a solid day out at the movies, and could lead to some meaningful conversations afterwards about sibling rivalries.
The Boss Baby is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 97 minutes and is rated PG for some mild rude humor.
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