Director: Tom McGrath
Writer: Michael McCullers
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Miles Christopher Bakshi, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Genre: Family, comedy
These days, I find it healthy to maintain low expectations in regards to DreamWorks releases. How to Train Your Dragon has somewhat gone off the rails, and while Kung Fu Panda continues to marginally improve with each outing, it’s still not on par with the studio’s finest. The Boss Baby initially seemed like no exception to this rule, but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. I mean, how can you say “no” to a face like that?
Violence: Some mild cartoon slapstick violence is present. There is some pretty intense derring-do for toddlers to be involved in.
Language/crude humor: Most of the humor present is of a rather crude nature. A few fart and nudity gags are present. Some potty humor. A cross-dressing gag is featured in the third act.
Sexual content: The ever-enduring “where do babies come from?” question springs up with subsequent uneasiness.
Drug/alcohol use: None.
Spiritual content: None.
Other negative themes: For the sake of plot momentum, the two main characters engage in a deal of breaking and entering, and trespassing.
Positive Content: The importance of familial love over career success is a central theme to the narrative. The characters clearly have nothing but gratitude for being in a nuclear intact family. At the end of the day, family is the goal ultimately being pursued for all parties involved.
I’m tempted to write this review as an open letter to DreamWorks Animation, but recognizing that as a rather trite review mechanism, I’ll reserve it for a later time. I’m sure the opportunity will present itself soon enough. In the meantime, we’ll simply take to task what is arguably the most “DreamWorks” movie ever since there even WAS a DreamWorks. What’s given to us is little more than what we were introduced to in those tumultuous days before the birth of the “Best Animated Feature” award: a slapdash animated family comedy festooned with slyly pervasive double-entendres, on-the-nose needle-drops, and crude humor to fasten the attention of the most simple-minded viewers in the seats (regardless of their age). Yes, it’s basically the Shrek recipe all over again with infants. For one reason or another, the studio decided to insouciantly dip into the pool that put them on the map in the first place, proving once and for all that outside of social media-infused irony, such a formula has little (if any) lasting power.
The plot premise, based on the 2010 children’s picture book of the same name, is straightforward enough. Little Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) and his mom and dad (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel respectively) live a perfectly idyllic life blessed with plenty of quality time and encouragement of imaginative approaches to life’s problems. Everything of course will go haywire once the folks try to announce that momma’s got a bun in the oven, but it’s at this point that the film begins to fall apart.
Even though the mother is clearly pregnant at the time of breaking the news to Tim, somehow the baby arrives via some other form of delivery with a sharp black business suit, a briefcase, Alec Baldwin’s panache, and the noticeably virulent “Dream-smirk” in tow. The anxiety of an only child being beset with the status of siblinghood with a new family member who seems to effortlessly remake the entire span of the house into his own image overnight would have been an interesting thematic direction for the story to pursue. Unfortunately, this isn’t Pixar, so instead we will have to settle with the potential being used as an excuse for a long lazy romp through tired and largely disjointed sitcom bits.
It is later revealed that this sharply dressed bundle of joy (who goes on without a proper name for some reason) is actually a high-ranking representative of Baby Corp, an other-worldly organization comprised entirely of infants with adult-like minds who work endlessly to preserve love and affection for babies everywhere. Apparently, the love and affection reserves of the world are limited, and babies are losing a great deal of their cut of the goods to their great cuteness competitors: puppies. That the great rivals of babies are puppies is largely arbitrary. It really could have been kittens or ponies or even parakeets and worked just as well. In fact, this love disparity is represented multiple times in a graphical pie chart that relegates cats, birds, and fish to the margins of affection recipients. That might not be the most accurate representation of the status quo from my experience, but the fact that I’m going off on this tangent is hopefully indicative of what little substance The Boss Baby really has to offer to you, dear reader.
It is imperative that our suede infant hero uncover what the next secret product the rival organization of Puppy Co.–where Tim’s parents happen to work–plans to launch; one that will certainly put Baby Corp out of business (whatever THAT would entail). Success will get Boss Baby (I guess THAT’S how he’ll be named here) a massive promotion and removal from Tim’s life, and so Tim feels inclined to assist in Boss Baby’s mission so that they will be rid of each other forever. Everybody gets what they want, I suppose.
That kind of dismissive and hollow approach to accomplishment seems to permeate throughout the film, in which everything one would expect from a slightly naughty animated family movie from the same director who gave us Megamind and Madagascar is trotted out in the most puerile and inattentive fashion available. The team seems to think that merely shoving our face in the most uncomfortable places is the epitome of comical genius that never wears on anyone’s nerves. Now, there is some latent truth to this error. Laughter is a very popular way in which we deal with discomfort. Oftentimes, reminiscing about uncomfortable and embarrassing occurrences in our past elicits genuine and un-ironic laughter. But the laughter that The Boss Baby aims to provoke is not really one that produces those kinds of healthy results.
It is the tendency of the most important art works to be subversive in one way or another, and so many young artists looking to be relevant in their career will hunt for the opportunity to be subversive in their work. This is usually most easily accomplished by making a narrative that is irreverent of the prevailing norms of propriety relevant at the time. The issue is when so many artists follow the trends of irreverence that have been established by the self-styled disciples of irreverence. An almost intrinsic element of the irreverent and the subversive is that it gives no heed to trends, thus seeking out and following the “trends” of subversion and irreverence is something of a self-defeating ambition. This renders the much sought-after irreverence irrelevant, and once being irreverent is no longer relevant, being reverent then becomes a form of subversion, and thus more relevant. Feel free to reread that last sentence a few times if you need to. I can wait.
With The Boss Baby, the signature brand of DreamWorks style irreverence has become more irrelevant than possibly ever before. It really does nothing in the way of enhancing the experience of the film or helping us as viewers to resonate with the film on any meaningful level. Once you see a baby fart diaper powder and a pixelization block is put over his privates, one is compelled to sit back and wonder, “What is the point of it all?” The film has no answer and no intention of answering.
There are more functional issues to the movie as well. As hinted at before, Tim has a rather hyperactive imagination and he will often muster newfound resolve in conquering his life challenges by assessing the problem through a visionary lens. Hanging on for dear life by the end of his rope over a pit of death? No problem! He’s a pirate in a swashbuckling caper able to perform daring feats of high-swinging acrobatics. This is all well and good, but there are times when the imaginative sequences mesh with the “real life” sequences in rather incoherent ways that can raise eyebrows on how exactly the mechanics of these two frameworks of progression synergize with one another. Do the imaginative events override the real-life situation? Is Tim capable of altering reality with his mind? Maybe it’s best not to ask.
It’s not all bad. The character animation has numerous visual flairs that enchant and wow quite easily. It even rivals that of the somewhat underrated Mr. Peabody and Sherman. While the writing pales in comparison to another infant-oriented animated comedy from last year, the witty and enjoyable Storks, it still holds its own as a more mature comedy with some clever dialogue and character interactions. My personal favorite treat in the film was Tim’s wizard alarm clock, Wizzie (James McGrath), a charming mechanical Gandalf knock-off who makes wry complaints about his job as a timekeeper.
“Daylight savings time is especially difficult. Spring forward! Fall back! There isn’t even any ‘Spring’ in the Wizarding World! Only DARKNESS and WINTER!”
When the character you remember most fondly is a talking prop voiced by the director’s nephew, maybe something went wrong somewhere before the production team even got started. Did they seriously put B.O.O. on indefinite hiatus for this? And what does this studio have on offer later this year? Captain Underpants. Kyrie eleison…
The Bottom Line