The Boss Baby
The prospect of Alec Baldwin voicing a talking newborn with the business acumen of a Fortune 500 CEO sounds like a better fit for an animated short film preceding the next How to Train Your Dragon than a film of Dragon proportions.
But under the guidance of director Tom McGrath, the concept at the heart of The Boss Baby turns out more than capable of sustaining a feature length film, despite a fair share of filler to pad its runtime.
The writer/director of the first two Madagascar films, the second of which is significantly more oddball than your average anthropomorphic animal offering, McGrath takes a similar approach with the script by Michael McCullers (Baby Mama), adapted from Marla Frazee’s slightly skimpier board book.
In its wonderfully weird world, creme de la creme kids get selected to stay in the heaven-ish BabyCorp and work to keep their kind the top priority for adults on Earth, staving off devolving into their goo-goo-ga-ga peers by drinking a magic formula that maintains their elite cognitive powers.
Meanwhile, down on the ground, adult Tim (Tobey Maguire) spins a How I Met Your Mother-like yarn of how his elementary school aged self (Miles Bakshi) had his idyllic, only child existence flip-turned upside down by the arrival of one such suit-wearing, briefcase-toting homunculus.
Seeing as babies don’t come from storks nor traditional biology, his mom (Lisa Kudrow) and dad (Jimmy Kimmel) aren’t fazed by the family’s new addition arriving via taxi cab nor his unusual attire. The little boy’s totalitarian rule over the adults and the family dynamic’s drastic shifts form a smart send-up of elder sibling blues, but soon give way to his true purpose: stopping PuppyCorp from introducing a new breed of dog that promises to usurp babies as humans’ premier desired item.
To achieve these ends, Boss Baby enlists the pint-sized children of PuppyCorp employees, all of whom are enthusiastic but not nearly on his intellectual level, especially comic-relief meathead Jimbo (David Soren).
While their efforts to prevent Tim from narcing to his parents and other action sequences are undermined by familiar slapstick – likely younger viewers’ favorite parts of the film – Boss Baby jazzes up many of these scenes through the older brother’s limitless imagination.
The best of these creative flourishes is a talking wizard alarm clock named Wizzie (James McGrath) who converses with Tim each morning, making sure to pepper his existential angst with a few Gandalf quotes, but with the plot in need of a destination, the film’s weirdness eventually takes a backseat to dull genre tropes, doubling down on dopey epiphanies that might be beneficial to children experiencing them for the first time.
The third act addition of Elvis impersonators spikes the fun level back up and other silly BabyCorp details nearly vault the film into the upper echelons of Dreamworks Animation’s output, but there’s simply too much normalcy amidst the bizarre fundamentals for that strong of an endorsement.
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG. Playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)