I have to admit that The Boss Baby is an animated film that I have mixed feelings about.
Actually, that shouldn’t be surprising. The Boss Baby is the epitome of the type of film that is disliked by critics but loved by audiences. It got fairly dismissive reviews but it also made a ton of money and apparently, there’s a sequel in the works.
It’s a product of Dreamworks Animation, which has always basically been Pixar without the edge. If Pixar films often seem to be about the animators working out their own personal issues through their work, the films from Dreamworks are often distinguished by just how little is actually going on beneath the surface. If Pixar specializes in crowd pleasers that challenge you to think, Dreamworks specializes in crowd pleasers that invite you to sit back and relax.
(Of course, that’s a generalization. Dreamworks is responsible for the Shrek films, the majority of which I absolutely love. At the same time, as much as I love Pixar, I would warn against giving too much thought to anything in the first two Cars films.)
Anyway, The Boss Baby is the story of Ted, a little baby who wears a suit and tie and who sounds just like Alec Baldwin. Strangely, only his older brother , Tim (Max Bakshi), appears to see anything strange about any of this. Everyone just dismisses Tim’s concern as a product of Tim being jealous of his baby brother and, to a certain extent, they have a point. The older children are always jealous of their younger siblings. (Fortunately, I was the youngest of four so I never had to be jealous of anyone.) Still, it turns out that Tim is correct about something being strange about Ted, who has actually been sent into the world on a secret mission. Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi) is the CEO of Puppy Corp. and he’s conspiring to make puppies cuter than babies. The Boss Baby has to stop him and he only has a few days to do so before he forgets how to speak and turns into an ordinary baby.
It’s a surprisingly busy plot and a lot of it feels as if it was ripped off from the Toy Story films. Instead of talking toys, we’ve got a talking baby. Just as Toy Story 3 featured a lengthy chase scene and a bitter villain, The Boss Baby features a lengthy chase scene and a bitter villain. Much as how every Toy Story movie ended with a rumination on what it means to get older and grow up, The Boss Baby ends with a rumination on what it means to get older and grow up. Many times, The Boss Baby feels like a compilation of scenes and characters lifted from other animated films.
At the same time, the idea of a baby wearing a suit and talking like a New York tough guy is undeniably cute. I’m not the world’s biggest Alec Baldwin fan but, in this case, it’s perfect casting. As the film itself makes clear, babies are cute. This is especially true when they’re animated and you’re not the one who has to change their diapers or clean up after them.
There’s a thin line between keeping an audience happy and pandering and, often, The Boss Baby steps over that line. It’s a very derivative film, one that never reaches either the comedic or the emotional highs of a good Pixar film. However, the baby is cute and sometimes, that’s enough.