Corporatism For Kids: ‘Boss Baby’ Is So Much More Than A One-Joke Project
As a white adult man, it can often be uncomfortable to buy a single ticket for a Monday afternoon screening of an animated kids’ film: “why is he here?” they must wonder as I skip merrily into a completely empty screening room to watch a film aimed at audiences half my age. But for Boss Baby, any mild discomfort was absolutely worth it. This is a film with the greatest movie poster of the year so far: a poster that caught my attention a few months ago. A baby, wearing a suit, voiced by Alec Baldwin: a recipe for comedic brilliance.
My only wish for Boss Baby, which has received decent but not brilliant reviews, was for it to make me laugh as much as its poster did. In this regard, it succeeded with flying colours; but, to my surprise, Boss Baby is so much more: this is a really charming family comedy, and after delivering on its promise of Alec Baldwin Voicing A Baby In A Suit, evolves into something smart, sophisticated and oddly moving.
For while The Boss Baby is a cynical creation, a merging of infant innocence with the cruel formality of the adult workplace, the story he occupies is layered with sweetness: what Boss Baby’s poster doesn’t advertise is the central theme of brotherhood, one that is explored with sincerity and a visual invention we haven’t seen from DreamWorks Animation in a very, very long time.
For at least the first hour, the film is set exclusively within the confines of a suburban house, but director Tom McGrath (the Madagascar trilogy and the brilliant Megamind) and his animation team inject unexpected colour into the action as we’re shown the playful fantasies of Tim, jealous older brother of The Boss Baby — voiced by Miles Bakshi as a child and Tobey Maguire in adult narration. Tim creates worlds of dastardly pirates and alien battle, rendered stunningly in a picturebook aesthic distinct from the real world scenes. In the third act, a plane full of Elvis impersonators provides some masterful twisting of language (and a superb disguise for the lumbering henchman of Steve Buscemi’s excellently-realised villain).
More than any recent DreamWorks (or BlueSky, or Illumination) project, the film with which Boss Baby shares most in spirit in Pixar’s 2015 masterpiece Inside Out, which similarly introduced kids to the pains of bureaucracy by presenting human emotions as a Parks & Rec-style group of dysfunctional co-workers. The Boss Baby takes us right to the top; Baldwin’s eponymous Baby informs Tim about his superiors and predecessors: their titles feature a variety of adjectives put before the word ‘Baby’. This is Apple, Goldman Sachs, Trump Corps.: a dark labyrinth of H.R. and P-45s… with milk! The enemy of the babies: puppies. Mankind’s superficial relationship with their canine pals threatens to undermine their desire to procreate: the Boss Baby heroically aims to undermine puppies’ domination. I was rooting for him strongly.
What impressed me most about Boss Baby is the discrepancy between the quality of the film and how mediocre it could’ve been: the effort and aim for greatness on display is extremely unique for a non-Pixar animated film. Boss Baby’s use of music, both the grand cinematic Hans Zimmer score and songs by Fred Astaire and Burt Bacharach, had me on side from the very beginning. The Beatles’ “Blackbird” is a key element of the story — a symbol of Tim’s spoilt-only-child relationship with his parents (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel), who sing it to him every night. Ultimately, the melody of “Blackbird” is adapted into a piece of score at a climactic moment: it’s a triumphant use of music worthy of La La Land, and marks Boss Baby as an objectively superior work of commercial animation. Storks — another recent animated comedy about babies — this is not: Boss Baby subverts expectations for scatology and throwaway cultural references for genuine timeless delight.
It’s interesting to watch a film as an adult and know for certain how much you would have adored it as a child; my two favourite Alec Baldwin performances are in children’s films: Thomas and the Magic Railroad, in which he displays a wonderful sweetness as a station inspector, and The Cat in the Hat, where he’s sprayed with purple goo after bailiffs confiscate his TV. Baldwin’s cynical demeanour translates brilliantly into heroes and villains in family comedies: The Boss Baby is another great hero on his resumé.
The ending of the film, which moved me to tears with its showcase of brotherly love, wraps up Tim and the Boss Baby’s story nicely. The film’s box office success would suggest a sequel, but these characters are- thankfully- safe. Like Megamind, this is a film that doesn’t need an inferior follow-up.