Let’s face facts. Dreamworks Animation has evolved into the studio that makes memes come true. Films that began as genuine attempts to create a more sardonic cousin to the more earnest fare of Disney/Pixar have been retroactively reduced into a series of internet punchlines. At the center of this movement is Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, a middling hit turned accidental cult classic due to its delightfully bizarre story choices. Well, Dreamworks has gotten the message loud and clear. The Boss Baby doesn’t feel like an attempt to make a quality family movie. It plays like a series of half-baked ideas thrown at the wall by animators on a few too many magic mushrooms, desperate to create the next Bee Movie.
The story stages itself as something of a fable. Tim Templeton (Miles Christopher Bakshi and Tobey Maguire), a man with a rather active imagination, is recounting the story of when he first met his baby brother. He starts going through all of the standard older sibling trials. The days of endless attention from his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) are over, as they desperately tend to the baby. However, Tim doesn’t see his new bother as an ordinary infant. Instead, he takes the form of a sharply dressed, Mad Men esque executive type (Alec Baldwin) who has only come into the family as a sting operation. His native company, Baby Crop, must overthrow Puppy Co.’s plan to create a dog cute enough to destroy all love for babies, with Tim’s dad serving as an in since he works for the company.
The idea of a sibling rivalry being escalated into an exaggerated cartoon romp is certainly a solid foundation. Initially, the film seems fairly interested in exploring what’s going on in Tim’s head. Until we discover that The Boss Baby can talk, he functions as an extension of Tim’s newfound loneliness. However, once the film turns into the Alec Baldwin show at the end of the first act, all of the interest in telling a richer story vanishes in favor of an ADD-fueled traffic jam of lame jokes and overblown set-pieces.
Baldwin’s Boss Baby is so concerned with having a quip ready for every second of screen-time that he never manages to be likable. He’s not a character, he’s a concept; he’s a tired rehash of Baldwin’s brilliant turn as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock. It’s certainly no fault of Baldwin’s, he’s clearly having a ball throwing his signature bravado into every line, there’s just nothing for him to chew on. His dynamic with his brother is also a complete waste, as Tim is never given much to do besides whine and chase after The Boss Baby as he’s strung along through the plot. These two don’t build an organic bond. They’re playing out plot beats from every other animated buddy movie that dictate that they be friends by page 30, mad at each other by page 65, and stronger than ever by page 80.
Instead of focusing on the relationship between our key characters, the film goes all in on the wacky lore of the baby world. At one point, we’re taken on a trip through the cosmos that feels right out of Doctor Strange in order to get up to baby corp. There’s a lengthy detour where we hear a whole bunch of malarkey about secret baby formulas, child birthing assembly lines and the Boss’ beloved memos. However, none of these designs and concepts have the zany originality that they’re clearly intended to. In fact, most of them were much more creatively explored in last year’s Storks, which had solid characters and funny writing to bolster all of its absurdity.
Since the story is so infantile, the animators overcompensate by having every frame run at a mile a minute. Nothing in this film can sit still, even for a second. When there isn’t a frenetic but largely generic chase scene whizzing by, the characters are constantly moving around the room as they throw out quips. Not even the animation itself can sit still as it constantly shifts to different styles while Tim has his little fantasy seizures. There’s an overabundance of self consciously psychedelic moments that never land, as they’re clearly just tossed in for the film to have a signature strange moment or two.
The Boss Baby is a full-length version of a parody trailer straight out of Tropic Thunder. Something you’d see and say “well, at least Hollywood isn’t quite that stupid.” Well, it seems as though a group of infants has taken over the writers rooms at Dreamworks, who seem to have thrown all artistic ambitions out the window. They are now the Boss Baby and Captain Underpants studio and something tells me that the real life boss babies who run the show are just fine with that.