Some moments in “The Boss Baby” are not just wise, they are brilliant. These moments, and they tend to be frontloaded, offer up a perfect look at just what it’s like to have a baby join a family, of the various changes that have to be made when a baby arrives, of how the baby actually becomes the boss of the house. Later in the film, the whole thing just devolves into silliness. And, while it’s great to be silly, and largely “The Boss Baby” has silly down, one can’t help but wish for more of those early moments, more of that smart understanding of life with a baby.
Directed by Tom McGrath, written by Michael McCullers, and based on the book by Marla Frazee, the movie focuses on the uneasy relationship between seven-year-old Tim (Miles Bakshi) and the new baby in the house (Alec Baldwin). Enemies at first, Miles soon agrees with the baby’s plan to stop the parents’ company from creating the cutest puppy in the world because cute puppies diminish the amount of love one can have for babies.
Go back and reread that sentence. I know it’s a weird one, reread it, I’ll wait right here.
Got it now? Yeah, that’s the deal – the baby has been sent by the baby corporation to ensure that the pet company the parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) work for doesn’t launch their new puppy because it’ll hurt the quantity of babies in the world.
Now, this is both really smart and utterly ridiculous. On the one hand, it’s a genius way to look at the worries that an older sibling would have upon the arrival of a younger sibling (not enough love to go around). On the other hand, there’s a baby corporation where babies with an aptitude for the business world run the show and have magic formula that keeps them babies forever. These forever babies are scared that an increase in puppies will lead to a decrease in babies that go to families.
“The Boss Baby” never does a great job managing these two hands – it never goes past making the former point, Tim and the baby just learn to get along through the latter. Then, add to the mix the fact that the latter probably never actually happened. The movie is narrated by an older Tim (Tobey Maguire), who is well aware that he may not be completely accurate about what went down. It just makes one uneasy.
Going far past uneasy and into upsetting are some of the early situations in which Tim and the baby fight. Tim may be imagining the baby’s plots and harm the baby’s playgroup friends might cause around the house, but Tim legitimately puts the baby into harm’s way on more than one occasion. There is no quicker way to suck the life out of a movie then by intimating that one child is seconds away from causing the other one irreparable harm under the guise of the first one “using his imagination.” The moments occur before things get truly loopy in “Boss Baby,” when the movie is still almost grounded in the real world.
This last only exacerbates the film’s issues dealing with the funny alongside of the smart. It indicates that “Boss Baby” isn’t just willing to separate these two things within the span of one narrative, but rather that it seemingly considers itself two narratives – there is the notion of a lesson and the notion of a joke and never the twain shall meet. It completely drains all the life and all the color out of a wonderfully lively, colorful, film.
Once parents in the audience are able to regain their center, they will find things enjoyable moments and some funny, clever, references, but some of the magic will be gone. It takes Tim from simply being an imaginative child to a disturbed one in need of counseling, and it cannot have intended as such. It seems much more likely that it was merely supposed to be part of funny bit of the movie, not the real world bit, but that isn’t how it comes off.
“The Boss Baby” is a movie about family, and how love can encompass a growing one. It is about one sibling learning to adjust after another enters the household. It is also a fantastical story of how those two kids prevent the end of the human race, which is set to be caused by the unleashing of a new puppy. The two halves each have their moments, but do not work together to make a single movie. That, combined with some questionable taste seriously hamper what could have been a great movie.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox