PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — From the boss to the boss baby.
That’s the road hereby traveled by Alec Baldwin, whose ubiquitous comic impression of President Trump on television’s Saturday Night Live has insinuated its way into our national dialogue.
He does something a little different in The Boss Baby, an unusual animated comedy about seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi), a kid with what is described by his parents, voiced by Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel, as an overactive imagination.
This gives the script license to pile on the fantasy sequences, and helps Tim to see his new baby brother (Baldwin) not as cute and cuddly but as a threat to his very existence.
The title character is seen, then, as not just a baby brother but a fast-talking, briefcase-carrying monster.
The Boss Baby is “loosely based on a picture book” – now there’s a movie credit you rarely see.
But, then, there isn’t much about The Boss Baby that’s ordinary or formulaic.
The central where-babies-come-from conceit, and a thin one it is, posits that babies who laugh when tickled are destined for family life, while those who don’t become employees of the management of BabyCorp, which keeps babies perpetually infantilized by having them drink a special formula, and is dedicated to stopping puppies from usurping the cuteness crown usually worn by human babies and stealing the world’s love.
Between the narration, compliments of Tobey Maguire as grownup Tim – about as unreliable as a narrator gets — looking back, and the storyline being seen completely through Tim’s eyes, there is a fuzzy distinction between what’s supposed to be real and what isn’t.
That’s a tricky tightrope to walk in a kidflick and it might keep some youngsters confused. But they won’t get lost and they won’t tune it out, mostly because the no-longer-an-only-child syndrome connects with audience members of all ages.
Of course, that’s also why, even if we’re responding to the film’s numerous inventive or inspired bits, gags, or one-liners, we can never quite leave behind the observation that this cartoon would work better as a snappy short than a bloated feature. And if the generic stop-the-scheme-of-the-evil-villain (Steve Buscemi) plotline doesn’t suggest that in spades, nothing does.
Director Tom McGrath (who co-directed all three Madagascar flicks and directed Megamind) works from a script by Michael McCullers that’s based on the children’s book by Marka Frazee, which hints at issues about the importance of family, the inevitability of sibling rivalry, and the convenience of conspiracy theories.
The animation style is upbeat and colorful, and Baldwin’s wisecracking is funny and generally endearing. But the plot becomes unnecessarily overactive and familiar, underscoring just how much more of a fit this would have been as a short rather than a feature film.
That said, the kids should enjoy this as breezy entertainment and won’t even find the cheap jokes cheap or the easy jokes easy.
You, on the other hand, might.
Which leaves us toilet-training 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for The Boss Baby, a cute animated lark in which Alec Baldwin as a baby trumps his seven-year-old brother.