In these troubled times, we should take Alec Baldwin in any form we can. His presence elevates The Boss Baby from tolerable to enjoyable as he lends his silky gravitas to voicing a baby in a suit that wants to undermine the world’s love of puppies. Yes, it’s all goofily ridiculous and overly complicated, like so many children’s movies are these days. But Baldwin provides an air of dignity that the content probably doesn’t deserve but that older audiences forced to sit through a shocking number of scenes with nude baby butts will appreciate.
The Boss Baby begins with 7-year-old Tim (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi), the only child of parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) who work at the mega-popular company Puppy Co. Their careers in marketing mean they’re often busy, but they always have time to play with Tim, read him a bedtime story, and sing him “Blackbird” by the Beatles (an extremely odd choice for a child’s favorite song, given that creator Paul McCartney has said it’s inspired by the American civil rights struggle). But all of that is upended one day when Tim’s parents announce he’ll be getting a little brother, and don’t take his “No, thanks,” for a suitable answer.
From the moment the baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) arrives, Tim and his parents are at odds. He’s convinced the baby showed up in a taxi cab, carrying a briefcase and chatting on the phone. His parents laugh off his worry, ascribing them to his “overactive imagination.” But as his parents spend more and more time with the baby, Tim thinks it is trying to usurp his parents’ love, a concern that seems validated when the nightly ritual of hugs, stories, and songs stop.
So Tim decides to confront the baby, who admits that he’s there to shake things up—“I’m the boss,” is a perfect thing for Baldwin to smugly say—but who refuses to explain why. Piece by piece, his motives are revealed: On a secret mission from Baby Corp., the world’s provider of infants, the Boss Baby is there to discover what secret product Puppy Co. is working on. “We’ve always been a must-have item,” the Boss Baby says of children, but the world’s newfound obsession with puppies means that fewer babies are being produced. If Boss Baby can spy on Tim’s parents and learn what the Puppy Co. plan is, he’ll return to Baby Corp. a hero, and will receive a promotion into the upper echelons of management. But if he can’t figure it out, he has to stay with Tim’s family forever—a conclusion neither of them wants.
It’s inevitable that the two will team up, and it’s inevitable that the head of Puppy Co., Francis E. Francis (voiced by Steve Buscemi), will have a shady past that threatens both of the boys. But it’s legitimately surprising that the film is so amusing. A lot of that is from Baldwin, who delivers his lines with his trademark blend of condescension, detachment, and self-satisfaction, but Bakshi pulls his weight, too, offering up an ongoing sense of childhood wonder and rage. (“Are you the baby Jesus?” he wonders of how mysteriously the Boss Baby entered their lives.) The push-pull dynamic between the two is clearly the film’s emotional center, and they pull it off.
The rest of this is all, as expected, pretty standard kids’ movie stuff, with varying degrees of success. There are naked baby butts everywhere, including some farting out baby powder; there are various gags with vomit and kitty litter; there’s an allusion to how babies “really” get made that has the Boss Baby disgusted when Tim volunteers his parents’ explanation. Some of it is excellent (we experience a chase scene between Tim and the Boss Baby’s henchmen, and then realize that our understanding was Tim’s exaggerated perspective, when in reality the scene was far more tame), and some of it feels lazy, like when the Boss Baby confidently says that “chicks dig babies.” The shoddily written moments aren’t pervasive, but they’re noticeable.
Nevertheless, The Boss Baby will win you over with Baldwin’s commitment to the absurdity. He manages to be both a calming force and an instigating one, and in a children’s movie that could have relied solely on expected choices, Baldwin messes with the mundane in an enjoyable, memorable way.
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 GUTTENBERGS