The Boss Baby has precisely one joke, and it’s this: Alec Baldwin is playing a baby, and the baby wears a suit, and the baby is a boss. I know what you’re thinking. The boss of what? Technically he’s an executive of Baby Corp, a heavenly dispensary that churns out wailing infants. But once he arrives at the family home of the Templetons, he swiftly becomes the boss there, too.
As someone with children, I can tell you what it feels like to have a megalomaniacal teeny tycoon running the household. That’s the metaphor at the heart of The Boss Baby’s premise; how kids disrupt the routines of their parents, sapping their affection and vitality like slobbering little Death Eaters. Baldwin’s Boss Baby runs his parents (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) ragged. He supplants his big brother, Tim (played as a 7-year-old by Miles Bakshi and as a narrating adult by Tobey Maguire), as the object of their devoted attention. No more bedtime stories or special songs for Tim. That’s the other existential query The Boss Baby has on its tiny mind; kids’ anxiety over where babies come from, and what might happen when they arrive.
In this movie, Baldwin arrives wearing a tiny suit and carrying a tiny briefcase, and even though that joke lasts for 97 minutes, it wears out its welcome after 10. Tim’s parents both work at a pet company that has developed an everlasting puppy, a threat to the eternal cuteness of babies, and Baby Corp have despatched the Boss Baby to investigate. Which means that corporate espionage forms the narrative backbone of a DreamWorks animation adapted from a children’s picture-book, written and illustrated in 2010 by Marla Frazee. It’s a bizarre idea, though not an inherently terrible one, but it’s undermined by Tim’s vividly hyperactive imagination letting the audience know up-front what they’re watching. And you don’t get any milk or cookies for guessing what it might be.
That the premise is odd and faintly self-defeating isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, but once you get used to the novelty of Baldwin’s voice barking orders from a months-old baby, the movie stops being funny. It has some ideas, and the usual cutesy array of scattershot DreamWorks references, and I suppose, if we’re being generous, a little bit of heart. But that’s hardly enough. The Boss Baby sells itself on the usual animated-comedy promise of big laughs for the kids and emotional heft for the parents, but the most this picture is able to summon is a chuckle or two and a knowing grin here and there. If you’ve got a baby of your own, you should probably skip this one.
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