Director: Tom McGrath
Duration: 97 poopy diaper minutes
The Boss Baby didn’t make me want to drink what was under the sink. That’s a good start for DreamWorks Animation’s latest feature. The chronology of their releases evades my accessible memory, but I read that their last one was Trolls (2016). “From the creators of Shrek” was the hot tip I saw on The Boss Baby’s poster. That was 2001, before Smash Mouth became Guy Fieri. I do not believe that this film will become as beloved as its sixteen-year-old predecessor, but it certainly exists. That I can confirm. Before I continue, I would like to preface that I understand that The Boss Baby was not made for me. It’s like Fifty Shades Darker in that sense. And that is the last time you will hear me compare the kinky sex movie with the poopy diaper movie.
I made the mistake of being attacked by the trailer before I saw The Boss Baby. “It’s a baby in a suit” seemed to be the gimmick. Try to avoid letting the trailer plant impressions on you—The Boss Baby has a little more substance than that. It establishes via its narrator (the present Tobey McGuire) that his younger self, Tim (Miles Bakshi), whose perspective we share, had a wild imagination growing up. We’re introduced to his baby brother, Boss Baby Templeton, voiced by most people’s favourite Baldwin (Alec, in case you were wondering—although I am personally partial to Daniel’s work in the first three seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street). When Boss Baby shows up in a suit, clicking his fingers and doing a less-cute-than-DreamWorks-thinks dance, it is evident that his antics are lost on everyone but the troubled Tim. Well, they’re certainly lost on his parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). Tim’s projections onto the world seem to be shared by the other babies in the neighbourhood, however, creating a “Rugrats on acid” effect. Share your theories about Angelica being a serial killer below.
At its core, The Boss Baby understands that older children can feel challenged by a new arrival in their family. Speaking from my personal experience working in early childhood, this is a phenomenon that some adults do forget, neglect, or fail to reflect on. The Boss Baby offers very little on how to deal with that. Little Timmy is punished until he decides that he loves this alien force that has burst into his life. This sets the real “plot” into motion, as these two delusion-sharing children plan to prevent the spread of some sort of genetically-modified “Forever Puppy”, innovated by a villainous CEO (Steve Buscemi, who really is in everything), which is apparently a threat to the lures of human reproduction. (I think the animators at DreamWorks Animation might be doing it wrong.) It’s basically a dialed-down version of Idiocracy (2006), with puppies replacing ambition.
The Boss Baby is animated extraordinarily well, as you would expect from a juggernaut like DreamWorks. Tim’s imagination helps us segue into colourful orgies of shape and deviating technique. Is “orgies” an appropriate word to use when reviewing a family film? At least I haven’t compared it to Fifty Shades Darker again. The film’s imagination sequences are stunning, but often terrifying. The person accompanying me to this screening agreed that certain children we know would be terrified by certain parts; some children love an exhilarating sequence, but there are scenes that are inspired by horror, likely intended as a nod to the parents accompanying their children as they get their first glimpse of ectoplasmic night terrors.
The humour in The Boss Baby seemed to go over the heads of most children in the audience. There were giggles at babies farting into talcum powder, creating a mushroom-cloud effect from the anus of the animated infant. (God, I never thought I’d have to type that sentence again.) I must confess that I laughed a few times. My favourite exchange is between Tim, Boss Baby, and some women about to enter a limousine for some sort of hen’s night. The children figure they can use this limousine to head off that Buscemi of a villain, who is planning to launch his MacGuffin to the public. So the children dirty themselves up and approach the women:
“My baby brother is sick. Can you please take us to get his special medicine?”
“Oh no! Gosh—where do you little guys live?”
“At the convention centre…”
You know what? Screw you, I laughed. When the boys emerge from the limousine, Tim throws away a drink remarking, “Ugh—the people of Long Island do not know how to make an iced tea.” Drunken children are funny, right? There’s also some funny subtitling for some incomprehensible Elvises. (Elvi? Or is the plural of “Elvis” just “Elvis”?) There you go—like a trailer for an adult comedy film, I’ve ruined the best parts so now you don’t need to go, in case you were getting the urge. By the way, I am paraphrasing those quotes—forgive my lack of journalistic integrity on that front.
I must clarify, because I understand my tone is giving off negative vibes—I enjoyed The Boss Baby. I was only bored by the mechanics of the plot. The humour was most tedious when it was hyper-aware of how cute it was trying to be, focused on stereotypes of the business world, or when it reverted to self-indulgent slapstick. (I always wonder what goes through these talented animators’ minds when they try to make hurting children look funny.) Well, that covers a large portion of the film, but it is all executed very well. The “what” and “how” is fine; it is the “why” where my review careens into a ditch, so I try to crack wise and stay awake. The overall message of the film is that there is enough love to go around. It’s nice, but you could have had Jimmy Kimmel walk on camera and just tell us that.
There was a moment at the end of the film where I thought the rug was going to be pulled out from under me. I don’t think it counts as a spoiler when I tell you that a wolf doesn’t come out and eat the children just as they are about to reach their goal. This isn’t 19th century Germany. You understand that this movie is trying to give you a happy ending, and not throw poopy diapers at your child’s soul. But there was a moment where I thought that maybe Boss Baby was going to return to his place as upper-management in the cloud kingdom in the sky run by babies (wait, I didn’t explain that part, did I?). For a moment, I thought that the wild imagination of Tim had invented the idea of this baby where no actual baby existed, and that this was a bittersweet story of one child’s loneliness. I swear I almost cried. A revelation like that would have raised this film to some level of weird brilliance, and given it all a point for existing. Needless to say, the film isn’t that ambitious. I was always told that I had a wild imagination.
I said at the start of this review that I understand The Boss Baby was not made for me. It’s not, but I’m not sure that it’s made for children either. It doesn’t have much respect for their attention spans, or the quality of lesson they crave. I stated that the “why” is a problem, but asking “who” is supposed to get something out of The Boss Baby might be the super colossal big fat question for the boss. Still, this is a better love story than Twilight. Or Fifty Shades Darker. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. You made me say the word “baby” too many times.