In the movies anything is possible. Superheroes routinely save the earth, regular folks can afford to live in fancy New York apartments and infants can talk.
This weekend Alec Baldwin lends his distinctive, raspy voice to the title character of The Boss Baby. Based on a 36-page book by Marla Frazee, it’s a feature length riff on Look Who’s Talking as imagined by Family Guy’s Stewie Griffin.
“I may look like a baby but I was born all grown up,” Boss Baby boasts as he drops into the Templeton family, upsetting only child Tim’s carefree life. Wearing a suit onesie, BB carries a briefcase and speaks the language of the boardroom.
Seems he’s from a purveyor of fine babies, a company that supplies tots via a chute. Those who giggle when tickled are placed with families, those who don’t, like Boss Baby, are sentenced to a Kafka-esque, humourless life in BabyCorp management, kept infant-sized by special formula.
With lines like, “You know who else wears a diaper? Astronauts.” Boss Baby has the movies’s best lines, expertly delivered by Baldwin but he’s not the first talking baby to grace the big screen.
Leone LeDoux was an actor who, when she wasn’t voicing Minnie Mouse in cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s, made a career out of supplying baby vocals for movies. Some, like her work in the short Water Babies, involved creating childlike sounds for on screen infants while others were more involved. In The Reluctant Dragon she gives voice to child genius Baby Weems.
“You’re a quiet little fellow, aren’t you?” coos the nurse.
“Well, there really isn’t much to talk about,” replies Weems.
Other movie babies have had more to say.
Amy Heckerling came up with the idea for the Citizen Kane of talking toddler movies, Look Who’s Talking, when she and screenwriter husband Neal Israel were playing with their new baby. “My husband and I started to put words in her mouth,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “what she might be thinking based on her expressions.” The playful game blossomed into a film starring Kristie Alley, John Travolta and Bruce Willis as the voice of talking newborn Mikey. Heckerling notes that Willis frequently went off script, improvising X-rated lines that couldn’t be used in the film.
The movie gave Travolta’s career a shot in the arm—he hadn’t acted in five years—and started a talking baby trend in pop culture. The next year the sitcom Baby Talk starred the vocal stylings of Tony Danza as Baby Mickey, son of single mom Maggie.
More recently the baritone voiced E-Trade baby, frequently voiced by comedian Pete Holmes, looked to Heckerling’s movie for inspiration. From 2008 to 2014 Elayne Rapping, professor of American Studies at SUNY/Buffalo says the spokesbaby “humanized the whole business of trading. While other babies are just pictures, this one has a personality that is pure pop culture.”
Finally, back on the big screen Baby Geniuses sees Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd as scientists who think that babies are born knowing the secrets of the universe. To learn those secrets they try to decode goo-goo-ga-ga baby talk. Roger Ebert put this movie on his “Most Hated” list and the Stinkers bad Movie Awards nominated Leo, Gerry and Myles Fitzgerald, the triplets who played Sly, the baby genius, as Worst Child Performer.