The Boss Baby ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Tom McGrath.
Written by: Michael McCullers based on the book by Marla Frazee.
Starring: Alec Baldwin (Boss Baby), Steve Buscemi (Francis Francis), Jimmy Kimmel (Dad), Lisa Kudrow (Mom), Tobey Maguire (Adult Tim / Narrator), Miles Christopher Bakshi (Tim), James McGrath (Wizzie / Elvis Impersonator), Conrad Vernon (Eugene), ViviAnn Yee (Staci), Eric Bell Jr. (Triplets), David Soren (Jimbo).
I read a story book – or two, or three – every night to my two girls (ages 5 and 3) – and it’s a wonderful time. The best kids’ books have a wonderful premise, and clever execution, and are over in the span of five minutes or so. It may feel natural for Hollywood – bereft of ideas as we’re always told – to adapt these children’s books into movies – it works for novels, right? – But more often than not it doesn’t. The Boss Baby is the latest example of a clever children’s book that doesn’t work when it’s blown up from a book that takes five minutes to read, into a movie you spend 98 minutes watching. That’s a lot of additional material to come up with – and to be honest, the strain shows. Yes, The Boss Baby has a fine premise – as a book, I’m sure its good (I’m going to look for it to read to my girls) – but as a movie, it’s one of those mild distractions for kids and adults alike, that never really gets off the ground.
The premise though is killer – cast Alec Baldwin as the voice of a baby wearing a business suit, who shows up one day and treats his new family like a demanding boss treats his employees – conducting meetings at all hours, making unreasonable demands on time, etc. Poor seven-year-old brother Tim sees this new arrival like an employee would see the company who just bought out his own – as someone who may look to replace him, because after all, he’s become redundant. Then Tim discovers that his new brother isn’t what he seems at all – he isn’t a regular baby, he’s really from the Management Group at Babycorp. (located in heaven – it’s kind of confusing, but the movie doesn’t dwell on it, so let’s move on) – and he’s been sent to spy on Tim’s parents – because they work for Puppy co. – and puppies are stealing all the love from babies – and as they are about to launch a new “product” that could eliminate babies forever. All of this is narrated by a grown up Tim (Tobey Maguire) – who tells the story like you would to a child, which I think it probably a smart choice (it makes the leaps in logic seem plausible, because it’s clearly all “dad humor” – the type of thing I pull on my girls all the time (the five year old is onto me though).
Baldwin is a pure joy in the role – the type of casting that is obvious and inspired at the same time, because he truly is the only voice you’d accept here. Yes, he’s basically doing Jack Donaghy as a baby, but that premise itself is funny. When the movie works at all, it’s because of Baldwin, who leans into all the references to 30 Rock or Glengarry Glen Ross (he knows why he was cast) with apparent glee. It’s too bad that the film has to force this premise and character into a plot at all – especially a not inspired one about a rivalry between puppies and babies, and that casts Steve Buscemi as the voice of the evil corporate bad guy – that casting is as obvious as Baldwin’s, but not nearly as inspired, mainly because no matter how good a voice actor Buscemi is (and Monsters Inc. and Monster House prove he’s great) – he cannot do anything with what he’s given.
The Boss Baby is a Dreamworks animation film, and it shows. Throughout the years, Dreamworks often has inspired premises for their films, but fall down in the execution – taking the easy way out, and rushing through production, when a few more passes at the screenplay stage could have turned out something better. The Boss Baby isn’t a horrible film – both my girls liked it well enough, and it didn’t annoy me or give me a headache like the worst animated films for kids do – but that’s not very high praise, is it?