Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Imagine waking up one day to a chubby spoiled brat in charge. No, I’m not talking about our Cheeto-in-chief in charge of this country. I’m talking about the protagonist at the center of director Tom McGrath’s THE BOSS BABY. Based on the children’s picture book by Marla Frazee (one that’s aimed at preschoolers – Grade 2), the cinematic iteration builds out the universe to pacify the kids of parents still procreating. While there’s redeeming value niche audiences can find in its sweet sentiment, the predictable plot makes it similar to a mandated corporate meeting for the rest of us – a chore to sit through.
Seven-year-old Timothy Templeton (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi) has an over-active imagination. Being that he’s an only child, his parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) constantly shower him with affection and attention. However, Tim’s idyllic childhood hits the skids once a business-suit clad, briefcase-carrying baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) enters the Templeton’s life and that baby, as the joke is interpreted literally, is the boss of the house. Tim soon suspects something isn’t quite right with his new “brother.” Turns out the imperious infant is from middle management and has been sent on a critical mission from Baby Corp., a heavenly conglomerate where babies work like cubicle-dwelling drones to ensure that babies are adults’ priority number one. Word has come across the wire that adorable puppies are threatening to unbalance the scales – and that makes Boss Baby’s task crucial for humankind’s survival. With each brother having selfish reasons on the line – the tenacious tot with promotional aspirations, and Tim yearning for his parents sole devotion – as is the case with any good business negotiation, there’s a deal to be struck between both warring parties.
Michael McCullers’ screenplay seems to translate Frazee’s absurdist tone fairly well, equating the arrival of sibling to a hostile corporate takeover. It explains real things children with siblings go through in their language without condescension through its humorous, hyper-stylized absurdism. They also allow time for emotional resonance to land (unlike in vapid Illumination movies). This should help equip young children with the tools they need to work through complex emotions surrounding welcoming another person into the family fold. “Only children” will probably gleen enjoyment from it too as it can teach them valuable lessons about sharing. Though the humor is geared mostly toward kids, the filmmakers occasionally throw adults a few bones. I dare you not to laugh at Tim’s wizard alarm clock’s joke about reaching his toothbrush shiv. Plus, it even obeys the comedy rule of threes (through the long-running gag involving Tim’s full name).
Nevertheless, the plot and set-ups can be seen from miles ahead so there’s no surprises there. From the moment the titular antagonist arrives in Tim’s life, we know that no matter how pretty the filmmakers dress up the story (and boy do they with its gorgeous art design, attractive color pallet, and animated texture blends), the ensuing journey will be an average “enemies become friends” tale. With nothing narratively lighting a fire under it, it doesn’t go anywhere with any added ingenuity. There’s a wrap-around device with narration by an older Tim (voiced by Tobey Maguire) that doesn’t contribute much else to the majority’s bottom line. The “cookies are for closers,” line is soul-deadening. Hans Zimmer’s score is pushy, saccharine and, at times, obtuse in the moments you’d expect, whether it be during the action-driven sequences, or the swelling climax.
Despite all the good is posits, THE BOSS BABY can never escape looking like a fake movie inside a real one – and altogether feeling like a redundancy.
THE BOSS BABY opens on March 31.