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Saturday, April 01, 2017

The Boss Baby

Dreamworks Animation is a studio that has never quite found a real identity.  While they've had their share of breakout hits like the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon films, they are much better known for pleasant but disposable features that are brightly colored and energetic, but fail to leave a lasting impression.  The Boss Baby is the latest film to follow this mold.  It's nice enough and has a cute central gimmick, but it never amounts to anything memorable.

The premise behind the film is that babies are created up in heavenly factories, where they are separated into two categories.  If they display natural curiosity and happiness, they are sent down to Earth to live with families.  But, the few that don't stay up above, and work for BabyCo, a corporation where babies work in a corporate environment, and make sure the balance of cuteness is never disturbed.  The greatest threat to babies on Earth are puppies, who have grown increasingly adorable and popular with parents over the years, to the point that some families are bypassing babies entirely, and getting puppies instead.  With the balance in jeopardy, the Boss Baby himself (voiced by Alec Baldwin, in total Glengarry Glen Ross corporate mode) decides he must take action, go down to Earth, and blend in with a human family in order to find out why puppies are suddenly so popular.

He is sent to live with seven-year-old Tim (Miles Bakshi), a kid who has been living the good life with his loving mom (Lisa Kudrow) and dad (Jimmy Kimmel) as an only son.  But when the Boss Baby suddenly shows up in a taxi cab, complete in a power suit and tie, gold watch and briefcase, his parents instantly fall for the little tyke, and Tim has a brother.  The movie doesn't really explain how this situation works.  We see the Baby arrive in a cab, and the parents just immediately accept this without any hesitation.  Tim, however, is more suspicious.  Not only is he not getting the attention he's used to anymore, but he happens upon the fact that the Boss Baby can not only talk, but talk like a middle aged corporate executive.  The two siblings war with each other at first, with Tim wanting to expose his new brother's secret, but eventually the two learn that they will have to work together if they want to go back to their normal lives.

It turns out that Tim's parents work for PuppyCo, a puppy conglomerate that is on the verge of releasing an entirely new and extra adorable breed of dog.  If the CEO of the company, Francis Francis (Steve Buscemi) isn't stopped, babies will be in danger of losing their popularity.  Tim and Boss Baby team up, and predictably find that they are a good team.  We get a lot of the standard messages of working together, and learning to accept one another.  However, we also get a plot that is all over the place, and never quite gels.  The movie never really slows down and tries to explain itself.  We're just supposed to accept this whole corporate war between babies and puppies without any real backstory or information.  Oh, we get an explanation as to why the evil Francis Francis wants to overtake babies in popularity, but it doesn't hold a lot of weight.  Neither does the movie itself, which frequently tries to distract us from the fact that the plot makes no sense with bizarre references to 70s cop shows and Elvis impersonators. 

The Boss Baby is based on a popular children's book from 2010, which acted largely as a metaphor, with the baby basically being seen as a corporate boss as it orders the parents around to its every whim.  The movie does play upon this idea early on, and these moments kind of work, and I'm sure anyone who has ever been a parent will be able to relate.  But director Tom McGrath (Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted) and screenwriter Michael McCullers (the Austin Powers sequels) take this idea literally, and try to run with it.  Sadly, it just doesn't work, and neither do their ideas to try to expand upon the idea, and insert corporate warfare.  There are a couple sweet moments here and there, a laugh or two, and Alec Baldwin is clearly giving this his all.  It just never comes together.  The movie is so all over the place that the moments that do work seem isolated and stranded, rather than part of a whole.

I have no doubt that the movie with find an audience with kids, as it's being marketed heavily.  But I highly doubt it will stay in much people's minds after its opening weekend.  Like a lot of Dreamworks' animated films, The Boss Baby seems to be designed to be consumed and then forgotten.  There was a time in animation when that was enough, but I think audiences are starting to ask for more.

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