THE BOSS BABY – Review
Sibling rivalry can really put a family through the ole’ ringer, really it can be “H-E-double hockey sticks. But for writers it’s heaven sent, a ready to order formula for drama with a conflict going way, way back to Cain and Abel. It certainly works for all movie genres and formats, even the animated feature films. While a great majority of cartoon heroes and heroines are solo offspring from single parent homes (like Belle and Jasmine) and others are orphans (Aladdin and Mowgli), there have been some siblings mixed in there. There were 99 dalmatians, Ariel had several sisters, and both Wendy Darling and Princess Merida had rambunctious brothers. Oh, and we can’t forget the sister superstars, Elsa and Anna of FROZEN (although many parents may want to after hearing “Let it Go” on a near continuous loop). Now comes an animated tale of two brothers with the rivalry ramped to a fever pitch, mainly because the new arrival is “running the show” because he is THE BOSS BABY.
The older brother Tim narrates the film as an adult (voice of Tobey Maguire), wistfully recalling the golden days of “only child-dom”, or is it “only child-hood”? Well, however you wish to phrase it, five year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) “rules the roost”. His Mom (Lisa Kudrow) and Dad (Jimmy Kimmel) absolutely dote on their ‘golden boy”. Before bedtime he’s treated to a multitude of songs, stories, and kisses. But the party must end some time, and the festivities screech to a halt with the arrival of Tim’s baby brother. But this is not your normal infant, since he isn’t brought by the stork, rather he steps out of a taxi. And he’s dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase. All of the attention goes to the Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin). Then, when the parents are out of the room, Tim discovers that his lil’ brother can talk! After confronting “B.B.’, Tim makes him fess up. Via a magic pacifier, the truth is revealed. BB has been sent there on mission assigned to him by his own bosses at “Babycorp.” to spy on his folks. They’re working for a big rival to Babycorp, and their new project must be stopped. BB tells Tim that if he helps him complete the mission he’ll return to his company, never to return (all memory of the BB will be erased). Can these arch enemies possibly work together, and return things to normal?
The marketing folks are pushing Baldwin’s voice work as the film’s title character (probably due to his sky-high profile via an invigorated Saturday Night Live), and he really carries the script. This baby’s a great mixture of that SNL role and his other big TV role, Jack, the cut-throat network exec on “30 Rock”. In one glorious bit, Baldwin pokes fun at one of his iconic movies. We know he can be funny, but somehow he manages to pluck at our heartstrings when BB’s tough exterior begins to soften as he finds that there’s more to life than that plush office. Maguire exudes a folksy charm as the teller of the tale, while his younger counterpart Bakshi is all youthful energy and exasperation. Kudrow and Kimmel hit all the right notes as the loving, but fairly clueless parents, putting a zany spin on “June and Ward” cliches. Saved for the film’s second half, the terrific Steve Buscemi steals several scenes as their boss, the daffy deranged Francis Francis, with a wacky sing-song line delivery. The “adult boss” turns on a dime from affable to sinister with Buscemi as a great partner/nemesis to Baldwin.
Escaping the jungle of MADAGASCAR and its sequels, director Tom McGrath finds just the proper pace for the film’s opening act, establishing an off-kilter setting for the slapstick. There is that late second half lull that plagues many comedies, but he wisely switches gears, aiming for the heart rather than the “funny bone”. Sure, they’re playing up the pathos, but the last few scenes are more moving than manipulative, especially for anyone dealing with sibling conflict. The design elements really mesh well. The backgrounds have a smooth retro look, evoking the suburbia of the late 50’s. That’s until the action shifts to a neon bedazzled Vegas right out of that 60’s Elvis classic (complete with lots of “king” gags). I really enjoyed the look of Tim’s fantasy daydreams, looking like a florescent, thick brushline homage to the Ralph Phillips shorts from the great Chuck Jones. Babies are difficult to cartoon (either lil’ pink blobs or odd Churchill/Hitchcock hybrids), but the artists achieved the perfect mix in BB with his large expressive eyes and inflated upper cranium. My favorite of the infants may be BB’s “muscle” Jimbo, a “no-necked” baby behemoth only clad in a diaper who could be a distant cousin of MOANA’s Maui. As for the adults, I enjoyed the look of another henchman, Francis’s dimwitted aide Eugene, a CG riff on Mugsy, a gangster who was no match for Bugs Bunny. The script from Austin Powers scribe Michael McCullers (from the book by Marla Frazee) sneaks in just the right amount of adult humor that will zip over the wee one’s heads, while still providing plenty of “gross-out’ diaper gags for them. As for the film’s soundtrack, like many Dreamworks efforts it’s a tad overloaded with pop tunes (did I hear the old Banana Splits theme song?), but they’re not relying on them and pop culture references for easy chuckles. Though the film doesn’t approach the wonders of their HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON or KUNG FU PANDA series, there are loads of laughs to be had by hanging out with THE BOSS BABY.
3.5 out 5