THE BOSS BABY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Tom McGrath

Stars: voices of Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Tobey Maguire, James McGrath, Conrad Vernon, Walt Dohrn.

A rather silly premise drives this latest animated comedy from the Dreamworks Studios.

Seven-year-old Tim Templeton (voiced by Miles Bakshi, who is the grandson of animator Ralph Bakshi) is an only child with a healthy and vivid imagination. He enjoys the undivided love and attention from his parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), who read him stories and sing him lullabies every night. But then his life is turned upside down with the arrival of a new baby brother. He feels threatened when it seems to dominate his parents’ time and they have less time to spend with him. Both vie for their parents’ love and affection and their rivalry is ramped up to fever pitch.

Tim is immediately suspicious of the new arrival, not only did BB arrive via a taxi but he is dressed in a suit and carries a briefcase. Not only that but he is demanding, conniving and manipulative. Tim tries to find out what is going on and expose his new baby brother as a fraud. But instead he finds himself drawn into a world of industrial espionage and intrigue.

It turns out that his brother (voiced by Alec Baldwin) is an executive with Baby Corp, the firm that produces babies. BB was a humourless baby and was thus automatically selected for the administration section. He has been charged with trying to learn more about the new patented puppy line about to be launched by rival firm Puppy Co. It seems that adorable puppies are becomingly increasingly more popular than cute babies with families, and BB has been charged with finding out why. Tim’s parents are employed by Puppy Co. Tim has to put aside his mistrust of his new baby brother and learn to work together.

The film races towards an over the top finale in Las Vegas with a major Puppy Co exhibition and launch of their new product line. There Tim and the baby run afoul of Puppy Corp’s driven, embittered and megalomaniacal CEO, the wonderfully named Francis Francis (voiced by Steve Buscemi).

The Boss Baby has been inspired by the award winning best-selling children’s picture book written by Marla Frazee, and it has been adapted to the screen by Michael McCullers, who is better known for writing a couple of films in the Austin Powers franchise. Thankfully he has toned down the raunchy adult nature of his humour for this more family friendly outing, although there are a number of quirky and outlandish moments and enough gross out gags to entertain adults. The film deals with some universal themes like family, sibling rivalry, conflict resolution, and the cutthroat nature of the corporate world.

The director is Tom McGrath, a veteran of the animation scene who has a wonderful imagination and visual style. Not only has he directed films like Megamind and Madagascar, but has also provided the voices of many of the characters, including Skipper, the penguin.

There’s plenty of visual humour and slapstick humour here that will appeal to adults as well as children, and the animation itself is quite lively and colourful. The settings capture a wonderfully retro aesthetic that suits the material perfectly. However, the film is let down a bit by its chaotic and frenetic Las Vegas scenes and the formulaic race against time plot, which become overly busy and tonally are a contrast to what has preceded them.

As usual, a solid ensemble vocal cast has been assembled to bring the characters to life. Baldwin is perfectly cast as the Boss Baby, and his aggressive reading suits the character and his take charge attitude. Baldwin has undergone something of a career renaissance of late, what with his Emmy award winning role as the tough executive in the popular sitcom 30 Rock and his lampooning of President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. Even his line “cookies are for closers” is a parody of his line from Glengarry Glen Ross, and indeed his character can be seen as a bit of a satire on Trump. The interaction between him and newcomer Bakshi adds plenty of humour to the material. Kimmell and Kudrow are good as the clueless parents who seem to be throwbacks to a more innocent age. Buscemi lends his instantly recognisable voice to the villainous Francis.

But ultimately The Boss Baby is an underwhelming film, especially when compared to some of the better animated works from both Dreamworks and Pixar Studios.

★★☆

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