Based on a 36-page book by Marla Frazee, “The Boss Baby” is a feature length riff on “Look Who’s Talking” as imagined by “Family Guy’s” Stewie.
Tim Templeton (voice of Miles Bakshi, grandson of animation hero Ralph) is an imaginative seven-year-old only child of parents Ted and Janis voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow. “It was just the three of us,” he says. “The Templetons. Three is the perfect number. Interesting fact, did you know the triangle is the strongest shape alive?” He’s content to be the centre of attention but his carefully constructed life is turned upside down when Mom and Dad come home with his little brother (Alec Baldwin).
The baby is… different. “I may look like a baby but I was born all grown up,” he boasts. Wearing a suit onesie he carries a briefcase and speaks the language of the boardroom. “He’s like a little man!” says Mom. Seems he’s from a purveyor of fine babies, a company that supplies tots who arrive 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. “If people knew where babies really came from they’d never have one,” says Boss Baby. “Same goes for hotdogs.”
In his quest for a promotion and a corner office with his own private potty the ambitious Boss Baby lands with Tim and family. He’s placed himself with Ted and Janice to get closer to their boss, Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi), CEO of PuppyCorp. Francis is developing a forever puppy, a new designer models of Frankendog, each more adorable than the last. They’re so cute they threaten to soak up all the love usually reserved for babies. It’s a threat to BabyCorp’s giant-sized baby business and if Boss Baby doesn’t get to the bottom of the puppy problem his special formula will be taken away and he will turn into a regular baby. With Tim’s reluctant help he takes on PuppyCorp.
Echoes of the lamentable “Storks” and its baby making company reverberate throughout the “The Boss Baby’s” infant delivery sequence but the comparisons between the two movies ends there.
At the mushy heart of “The Boss Baby” are messages about the importance of family and unconditional love and other kid flick platitudes, but at the forefront is Boss Baby as a more devious version of Beck Bennett, “Saturday Night Live’s” CEO with the body of a baby. Baldwin brings his distinctive rasp to the character, dropping riffs from his “Glengarry Glen Ross” super-salesman character. “Put that cookie down,” he scolds. “Cookies are for closers,” and “You know who else wears a diaper? Astronauts.” With an aplomb that makes the whole silly story worth a look.
Director Tom “Madagascar” McGrath uses various kinds of animation to paint the screen with vibrant colours and images. His ninja spy sequence is striking, drawing from kung fu movies and horror movies to create the film’s most interesting few minutes. Most characters resemble Margaret Keane’s big-eyed children but McGrath finds interesting ways to jazz them up. Baby Boss’s James Brown strut up walkway to the house is more than choreography, it tells you all you need to know about the character before you even see his face. A scene with incomprehensible Elvis impersonators is hilarious and strange for adults and kids alike. In those sequences and small character moments McGrath and company shine.
Despite those character and animated flourishes “The Boss Baby” doesn’t go out of its way to truly distinguish itself. It’s a pleasant diversion for big and small but the story and its lessons feel like things we’ve seen done before and done better.