The boss is in… his crib.
At this point, you’ve probably heard about Dreamworks Animation’s latest comedy, The Boss Baby, which, as its title entails, focuses on a seemingly innocent newborn who’s secretly a business savvy worker in a corporation in Heaven. Fortunately, said baby happens to be voiced by Alec Baldwin, in an admittedly funny, spot on bit of casting. But if the film’s promotional materials and trailers had made it seem like The Boss Baby may merely just be riding on the short-lived amusement of that one gag, then you probably won’t be surprised to know that it’s exactly that.
Directed by Tom McGrath (Madagascar) and based loosely on the children’s book of the same name by Marla Frazee, The Boss Baby tells the story of Tim (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi), an imaginative seven-year-old boy living with just his Mom and Dad (voiced by Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) when we first meet him. We’re quickly taken through a tour of Tim’s daily life in the opening of the film, which mostly involves him using his overactive imagination to imagine a bath as an underwater adventure into the literal belly of a beast, or a backyard barbeque as a showdown against some hungry apes. Then every night his parents read him three bedtime stories, sing him their rendition of “Blackbird,” and tuck him in for bed.
To Tim, this is the definition of a perfect life; just him and his parents. So when they ask Tim one night before bed if he’d want a baby brother he replies, “No, thanks. I’m enough,” and goes to bed seemingly unaware that his Mom is pregnant, even despite the obvious belly she’s sporting. From there, Tim’s life is quickly thrown into disarray by the arrival of his new brother, The Boss Baby (Baldwin), who shows up via taxi on his suburban street and wears a mini business suit every day and night. Tim quickly begins to wonder if his parents are falling out of love with him, as they spend more and more time “raising” their new arrival, and seemingly forgetting all about Tim and his beloved nightly routines.
Tim discovers that his brother isn’t just a baby, but actually a cutthroat business elite from “Babycorp.” He’s been sent down by his bosses in Heaven to accomplish a mission for them and, as a reward, be promoted to his own corner office. There’s also a really convoluted and nonsensical plot involving the rival CEO of Puppycorp (voiced by Steve Buscemi) who apparently is planning on creating a new kind of puppy that will make people want to stop having babies forever… which we’re pretty sure could be considered some form of genocide, even though no one seems as legitimately horrified by the prospects of his plan as they should.
It should be said right away that The Boss Baby is maybe the fastest-paced film to hit theaters so far this year. The film moves at such a rapid speed that even its pauses are stuffed and filled to the brim with little mini-sequences and moments until they don’t even feel like unnecessary detours away from the actual plot of the film — even though they very clearly and often frustratingly are and even as McGrath tries constantly to find new, unique ways to bring each individual scene to life (like using an unexpected camera pan to wipe away Tim’s imaginary landscapes to reveal the much more mundane reality of his adventures).
But none of those visual moments are able to distract from the fact that The Boss Baby never stops feeling like a feature-length film that should have been a 10-minute short at best. It coasts on the inherent joke of its premise for as long as its can, sometimes to legitimately amusing results, before trying to fill in the rest of its run time with metaphors, subplots, and twists that just don’t make very much sense.
At its best, The Boss Baby is a movie about a little boy learning to understand that not everything is always going to be about him, and the ways he tries to fight against the harsh reality of that. A sequence about 15 minutes into the movie highlights it best, when Tim engages in a backyard chase with The Boss Baby and his team of other business-driven, intelligent babies to try and deliver a recording of his corporate meeting to his parents. It’s an exaggerated action set-piece that’s as fun and exhilarating as anything Dreamworks Animation has put out since 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.
The only problem then is that it takes place so early on in the film, and is followed up by nothing but noticeably subpar moments and emotional beats that are too complicated and nonsensical to ring true in any way. After a while, it’s hard not to feel like McGrath and screenwriter Michael McCullers are just trying to come up with new ways to extend and justify the film’s 97 minute runtime. The results only become less convincing and increasingly more annoying as time goes on.