By Matthew McKibben | March 31, 2017
Director: Tom McGrath
Writer: Michael McCullers, based on the book by Marla Frazee
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Tobey Maguire, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Miles Bakshi
The main hook for children’s based entertainment has always been to anthropomorphize and/or give voice to everything. Your toys are cheap plastic playthings made in Taiwan, but what if they were actually real sentient beings? What’s it like for a baby deer to lose his mom to hunters? What if this puppet and his cricket best friend were capable of walking around like a real child (which sounds kind of terrifying when put like that)? Cars with eyeballs and voices (also terrifying)? Why not? Tom McGrath’s The Boss Baby simply takes this question to the next logical place; what if the young baby sibling demanding all of your parents’ time was actually the fast-talking, wheeling and dealing CEO of BabyCorp, basically a giant corporation in the sky where freshly minted babies (they gloss over the whole sex thing, obviously) are either sent off to loving families or they’re put to work in the machinery of the company itself…again, another children’s movie plot that sounds exponentially more creepy when described than it actually ends up being in the movie itself.
The Boss Baby drops us into a decades long PR battle between BabyCorp and its adversary company, PuppyCo. Whichever company comes out on top will demand the hearts and attention of people the world over. As in the real world, the runner up company is the first loser. Jobs and reputations are dependant on this conflict. The plot is a little ridiculous but it works because they couple that storyline into the overall structure of a man talking about the day his parents brought his new baby brother home from the hospital. With that structure, they’re able to take the proceedings beyond what would be possible due to it all coming from the imagination of one character.
Alec Baldwin has had a long and celebrated acting career, but his best, most memorable roles have been ones where he’s playing a corporate suit. Think 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy, his memorable turn in Glengarry Glen Ross (which gets parodied here), and even his current and ongoing impression of Donald Trump on SNL. His work here belongs right alongside all of the aforementioned parts above. Many actors can play the head honcho, but Baldwin has a natural warmth to him that works well for parts like this. It’s a kids movie, so he can’t go full Glengarry Glen Ross cutthroat here, but no one’s better at straddling that line than Baldwin. He’s just as good here as he was on 30 Rock.
The Boss Baby has a lot of fun with the wide range of emotions that come with suddenly being forced to split attention with a new baby sibling. Through the imagination of the narrator, they have a lot of fun with that notion that having a sibling means you’re at each other’s throats one moment and then bonding over similarities you both share the next.
The Boss Baby is cute and fun, but I wouldn’t quite call it a classic. DreamWorks Animation excels at making really good but rarely truly great animated movies. It’s not a knock, per se. They can’t all be (and shouldn’t be) classics. All that being said, though, I bet this will be a movie that sticks around for a while. It’s often laugh out loud funny and there’s enough other stuff there that will keep eyeballs on it down the road.