Boss Baby

Try to think of a single animated film made by Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks that doesn’t feature some fantastical beast, an anthropomorphic character or a world unlike our own.

High-concept premises are virtually a given when it comes to cartoons, but Boss Baby is one of a handful of contemporary animated features that could have easily been live-action, requiring little to no CGI and few special effects. It employs only human characters, and its single fantastical conceit is tied to things we’re familiar with: babies, families, human creation and corporate culture.

Really, the film has more in common with existential dramedies like Groundhog Day, Defending Your Life and Click, rather than most kids’ films (except perhaps All Dogs Go To Heaven). Unlike most of those films though, Boss Baby’s premise is convoluted and complicated: babies are mass produced and slated either as “family” or “management,” depending on whether or not they’re ticklish (stay with me, now).

“Family” babies grow up like normal human beings, while “management” babies drink a special formula that lets them remain fully formed adults in baby bodies to help keep Baby Corp running. The company ensures that babies remain the cutest and most desirable thing of all time, but they now face stiff competition from puppies. Baby Corp is worried that if it doesn’t keep its numbers up, humans will no longer want babies.

Oh, the capitalist anxiety!

It’s an absurd, silly premise, certainly, but it’s tied to a family story that makes it endurable. Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi), a creative seven-year-old, loves his adoring parents who devote every iota of attention to his happiness, singing him to sleep every night with The Beatles’ “Blackbird.” But Tim doesn’t quite understand how babies come into existence and feels threatened by the prospect of a new brother, so his over-imaginative brain takes over.

When his younger brother arrives, we understand his apprehension. Who would want a sour-faced baby voiced by Alec Baldwin as a younger brother? Tim is the only one who suspects Boss Baby (yes, that’s actually his name) is up to something. Boss Baby can certainly play cute when necessary, but he’s really the kind of slick, corporate shark Baldwin has portrayed in a variety of roles.

He wears a suit and tie, carries a briefcase, throws bills at people as a quick-fix solution. Boss Baby is all business. The ambitious enfant terrible wants to climb all the rungs on the Baby Corp ladder to nab the corner office. Because Tim doesn’t want a brother anyway, the two begrudgingly team up. Baby Boss’ undercover mission is to find intel on his competition’s new product: Puppy Co.’s new dog breed that stays puppyish forever.

Through their combined teamwork, the two brothers come to tolerate, like and even love each other (it hands Boss Baby his own existential crisis, deciding if management is really his calling after all). The titular corporate-tot throws out one business buzz word after another – “Cookies are for closers” is sadly the only reference to a Baldwin movie we get – and white-collared parents will lap up these jokes like nothing else.

But the most disappointing thing about Boss Baby is not its ridiculous premise and name, but something that Boss Baby would have surely learned in Marketing 101. Who is this movie’s demographic? Is it the parents, or the children? It remains to be seen if kids old enough to understand the story would find it interesting, and the film plays it low-key with physical humour, which could have made this more entertaining for younger kids.

The screening I attended produced far more adult guffaws than children’s chuckles. Tim is their gateway into the film, but he’s a pretty boring protagonist – even his Gandalf-imitation alarm clock “Wizzy” has more personality.

Originally published in The National Post (March 29, 2017).