A common criticism of movie adaptations of book-to-film adaptations is that they try to fit too much of the book’s storyline into a two-hour film. The “Harry Potter” films exemplify this problem, cramming several hours of reading into half-baked two-hour films that leave out many interesting parts of the books.
“The Boss Baby” suffers from the opposite problem. It’s adapted from a 36-page picture book by Marla Frazee, intended as a metaphor for babies bossing their tired parents around, not a story with an actual plot. It’s quickly apparent that the writer of the movie, Michael McCullers, had to come up with a story from essentially no source material, a task no one should have to do for an adaptation, no matter how loose it’s supposed to be. Set up for failure, “The Boss Baby” surprisingly isn’t that bad. It’s nothing special, especially when it comes to the plot, but the movie could’ve been a much more miserable experience.
The film begins with Tim (voiced by Miles Bakshi) enjoying his life as the only child of Ted (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel) and Janice (voiced by Lisa Kudrow). Tim gets all the attention from his parents and cherishes the nightly ritual of being read a bedtime story. His routine is shattered when a baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) dressed in a small business suit arrives at his home to be his baby “brother,” taking away all the attention that was given to Tim.
Tim soon discovers that the baby, who works for BabyCorp, can talk quite eloquently. He is convinced that the baby is up to no good, leading to a full-blown sibling rivalry as Tim tries to make the baby leave. However, when Tim discovers the true purpose of the baby’s intrusion, they hesitantly form an alliance, with the promise that the baby will leave after his mission for BabyCorp is complete.
That plot summary might sound familiar. That’s because it’s been done many times before. The first “Toy Story” film had this exact premise: something old (Woody) struggling to accept being replaced with something new (Buzz). More recently, “The Secret Life of Pets” was a poorly done recreation of this same premise.
In this regard, “The Boss Baby” offers nothing new. The sibling rivalry between Tim and the baby is uninteresting and predictable. Tim consistently tries and fails to prove to his parents that the baby can talk. It tries to come off as cute, though it’s a pretty weak attempt at trying to make the audience laugh. However, there’s a surprising amount of thought given to the world of the film. It explains that babies are not created by the parents, but rather just come into existence. In the film, a select few with cutthroat personalities are chosen to work for BabyCorp, the company that
Tim’s “brother” is employed by. There’s an unexpected amount of detail and history that goes into this storyline, especially for something that’s catering to kids.
“The Boss Baby” provides a twist on this formula when the intruder has a motive that isn’t just to replace the old figure. As the plot progresses, viewers learn that the baby has been sent by BabyCorp to stop the release of a new puppy from Puppy Co., because puppies are taking away all the love from babies. Tim’s household is a prime infiltration point since his parents work for Puppy Co. Ultimately, the plot comes crashing into a heap, not because of how unrealistic it is (that’s just standard fare for children’s animated films), but rather for its reveal of the villain. It’s a twist that comes out of nowhere and it pads on an unnecessary amount of time.
Throughout “The Boss Baby,” one element that repeats is Tim’s overactive imagination. This works some of the time, when the audience can relate their childhood imagination to Tim’s. Tim imagining his room as a prison when he’s grounded and imagining himself as an explorer is charming. The surreal animation during these sequences makes these scenes even
But Tim’s imagination is also one of the more unpleasant things about “The Boss Baby.” The most unpleasant thing is Wizzie, Tim’s wizard alarm clock that gives advice to him whenever he’s struggling with the baby. Most of the time, pop culture references aren’t funny and they’re often an indicator of how much effort went into some of the characters’ lines. Every scene with Wizzie is truly abysmal. He spouts lazy Gandalf references such as “You shall not pass” and “Fly, you fools.”
Even the baby has to get in on the pop culture action, telling his lackey Jimbo that “cookies are for closers,” a reference to Baldwin’s line in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” This brings up the question of whether or not kids will even get these references (hint: they won’t) and if they’re actually funny to adults (hint: they’re not). It’s times like these in the film where any sort of charm is lost because of lazy writing.
It might seem like “The Boss Baby” is trying too hard to be funny by having Alec Baldwin as the voice of the baby and juxtaposing the innocent nature of a baby with a deep businessman-like voice, but it’s surprisingly one of the best aspects of the film. Baldwin commands every scene he’s in with his voice, which is more noticeable than
“The Boss Baby” is surprising because it’s not a complete abomination. There was nothing going for it; the trailers were bad and the premise seemed weak. However, it beat the odds and ended up as a mediocre animated film that I’ll forget about in a week. Congratulations to Dreamworks for making not the worst movie ever.