Imagine sitting down for your favorite meal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just some homemade mac and cheese. Sounds good, right? Now, imagine sitting down for your favorite meal, but it comes with sides of ketchup, soy sauce and malt vinegar, while a clown casts candy sprinkles all over your food and a mariachi band plays trumpets into your ear. You may like some of those elements, but I’m willing to bet that it may be a bit overwhelming when you just want your dinner. That’s essentially how I felt watching DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby, directed by Tom McGrath. The core idea is solid enough, but the film ultimately gets weighed down with far too many trappings.
The plot centers around a young man named Tim (Tobey Maguire), who is remembering back to when he got a baby brother. The child Tim, voiced by Miles Bakshi, had a very close relationship with his parents. Everything changed though when Boss Baby arrived, played by Alec Baldwin. When Boss Baby (yes, that is literally his name) comes into the house, the family order gets upended. Tim begins to compete with the baby for their parents’ affection, trying to expose him as more than an ordinary infant. However, it is revealed that Boss Baby doesn’t wish to stay in the house either: you see, he’s with Baby Corp on a special mission to investigate Puppy Co. Puppies are apparently taking up too much love and are pushing babies off the market, and with a new development coming up it could spell the end of love for babies. If Boss Baby manages to get the information he needs, then he will leave to take on a new promotion. Since this will let Tim have his old life back, they agree to work together to uncover Puppy Co’s conspiracy.
If you think it sounds like an overly complex plot, especially for something based on a board book, then you’ve found the heat of the problem for the movie. I didn’t even mention the fact Tim admits to us that he had an overactive imagination as a kid, meaning that most of what we see didn’t happen exactly as he describes. The unreliable narrator trope could have been a clever idea, but it gets executed in a way that leaves more questions than answers. When we get only a metaphor of reality, there should still be a connection between the fantasy we see and the reality behind it; that allows us to continue following the story. Marla Frazee did that well in The Boss Baby, the original board book that she wrote and illustrated. Infants in the real world end up dictating schedules and get their every whim served. When it comes to our bosses, it can often feel the same way, leading to the joke behind the whole book. When the film tries to translate it to an hour and a half long script, though, things get off track. If all of Tim’s interactions with Boss Baby take place in his head, then when he teaches the baby to use his imagination, is he having a fantasy within a fantasy? Did they actually go on a plane across the country to Las Vegas to have a showdown with Puppy Co?
This is one of the biggest problems with The Boss Baby: while trying to be a comedy, it also tries to be a drama playing out from a child’s subjective viewpoint, similar to The LEGO Movie taking place entirely from a child’s imagination. However, while LEGO Movie managed to keep its framing device relatively simple by reserving it for the end, and making sure it actually worked for the story it was telling, Boss Baby insists on throwing it in our face constantly while not having it make any sense. In the end it honestly feels lazy.
On top of this device making us run everything we see through additional brainpower, the plot takes far too many twists and turns for something titled The Boss Baby. I feel like two or three movie scripts got welded together to come up with the madcap story we got. It went dizzyingly fast at some parts, while dragging on at others. And on top of that, the consistent insistence that “there’s only so much love to go around” just doesn’t really sit well with me. Sure, they try to refute the idea in the last five minutes, but it feels half-hearted. Altogether, the plot just feels like a wreck.
However, I can forgive a lackluster plot if the movie made me laugh or otherwise brought me enjoyment. The movie manages to do that… sometimes. Alec Baldwin does a fantastic job as Boss Baby — between Baldwin’s performance and the character animation, Boss Baby himself is a very fun focal point for the movie. Tim is also a solid enough character, if a bit generic. Miles Bakshi delivers a solid performance considering he went through puberty in production. He’s also the grandson of famous animator Ralph Bakshi, so that’s a cool Easter egg to catch there. As for the humor, some of it works well. There is genuine wit at multiple points of the movie, and I got a good chuckle.
That being said, butt jokes are the crutch of this film. So. Many. Butts. I counted no less than ten “Haha, there’s a baby butt!” moments on screen, some of these moments dragging on for a whole minute at a time. Another major drawback is the animation itself, which often resorts to gimmicks to justify a 3D ticket, because who doesn’t want to see a baby drool down into their face in 3D? The screen bursts with directionless energy to the film’s detriment. There are times where there’s so much motion going on, and at such a frantic pace, that I felt overwhelmed and dizzied trying to keep up!
In the end, I can’t recommend strongly either for or against seeing the movie. I just give it a great big “meh.” It might be worth seeing once for Alec Baldwin’s performance, but you could get the same thing from a Best-Of compilation on YouTube. I feel like it could have been better if DreamWorks had simply done what Warner Animation is doing — acknowledging the ridiculousness of their premises and rolling with them — instead of trying to somehow justify their weirdness with an unreliable narrator device. It’s not the worst movie from DreamWorks, though, so if it’s playing on a flight or in a waiting room it won’t hurt to catch some snippets here and there. In the end, though, this baby won’t be boss in the animation field this year.
David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.