November 17, 2017

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Baby Brother Blues | “The Boss Baby” Movie Review

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Tim discovers Boss Baby’s secret in The Boss Baby (Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation)

Tim discovers Boss Baby’s secret in The Boss Baby (Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation)

Author/illustrator Marla Frazee’s titular tyrannical tot from her acclaimed 2010 picture book The Boss Baby waddles onto the big screen, wreaking his own brand of mayhem, with briefcase in hand and dressed in Armani.

Director Tom McGrath (of the “Madagascar” series) shifts the focus from the upheaval of a demanding new baby to standard fare sibling rivalry. Seven-year-old and former only child Tim (voiced by Miles Bakshi) perceives the arrival of his baby brother, aka Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), as a threat, a devil baby stealing all his parents’ attention. He’s convinced that the competitor is a secretive manipulator—the crying and cooing are just a charade.

Tim’s suspicions are confirmed when he overhears the babe barking out orders on his Fisher Price phone. Bulging blue-eyed Boss Baby, an executive of Baby Corp (so that’s where babies come from), was born already grown up—or, as he clarifies, “I wasn’t born, I was hired” —and he is, indeed, on a covert mission: to prevent the marketing of an adorable genetic mutant that would upstage all babies, the Forever Puppy, which never grows up. What follows is a nonsensical mad scientist–type romp, with a silly subplot more elastic than a rubber band.

Boss Baby stays in Machiavellian mode through a special formula, without which he becomes a babbling newborn. And boy does he have a mean streak; you may want to avert your eyes to what the blackmailing baby does to Tim’s beloved stuffed toy Lamb Lamb. In one of the few similarities the movie shares with the book, the rambunctious little one calls all the shots. (The tongue stays firmly in cheek in this telling, too, though with an emphasis on brotherly love.)

Boss Baby tries to convince Tim that they must cooperate (Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation)

Boss Baby tries to convince Tim that they must cooperate (Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation)

The filmmakers borrow Frazee’s soft pencil and watercolor to echo the book’s clean-cut 1950s look and toss in a variety of animation styles, from the photo realistic to the fantastical (manga, a touch of 1970s Ralph Bakshi). The plastic, tactile sheen recalls the work of David Kirk and Frank Viva. A lot of the humor is directed more toward adults, such as a plane full of Elvis impersonators heading to Las Vegas or Tim’s reaction after his accidental first taste of an adult beverage: “People from Long Island sure don’t know how to make an iced tea.” Older viewers are also more likely to name the tunes from the era-hopping jukebox soundtrack: Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” or Kool & the Gang’s “Ladies Night.”

Yet the filmmakers know what its core audience likes, taking Frazee’s 32-page premise and tossing it around like a rubber ball and plowing through a checklist of giggle-inducing gags: a butt-sniffing puppy, pixelated nudity, projectile vomit, and the go-to favorite, farts. It’s as though the Chuck Jones–inspired mayhem was spun from the mind of a hyperactive preadolescent.

Given that the movie took six years to produce, the filmmakers had no idea of the resonance of the casting of Baldwin, who in 2011 was playing master of the universe–on–speed Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock. Beginning last fall, the actor has been closely linked to Donald Trump since lampooning the then–presidential candidate on Saturday Night Live. The cadence and one-liners of the business-baby inevitably brings to mind the spiel of Trump: The Art of the Deal. You might find yourself laughing, or having mixed emotions, when the testy towhead threatens to fire his older brother from the family.

Directed by Tom McGrath
85 minutes (feels a bit longer)
Rated PG

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Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

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