A slightly shorter version of this review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad...
With a childish man-baby terrorizing us from the White House who needs a movie about one? Shocked as I am to say this… “surprise!,” this past weekend’s #1 film The Boss Baby is actually good. For those fearing a one-joke gimmick film (Baby in a suit. Get it?), fear not. The new Dreamworks comedy actually has at least five broad joke topics. In descending order of amount of miniature jokes mined from the big ones:
- Corporate culture
- Childhood imagination
- Sibling rivalry
While Dreamworks pictures largely still lack the emotional complexity of their Pixar counterparts — this isn’t Inside Out or anything, let's not get carried away — at their best they still offer plenty to giggle with and gawk at for fans of animated comedy...
The Boss Baby is grabby and funny right from its credit sequence, which features a 7½ year old boy named Tim imagining where babies come from. He pictures a cloud-city bureaucracy named “Baby Corp” where babies are processed, diapered, powdered, and separated by their ticklishness in an elaborate contraption that combines conveyor belt surrealism with hamster tube nonsense. You see, Tim is an only child who suddenly feels he's been replaced or at least forgotten about when his parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel & Lisa Kudrow) bring home a new baby brother. The baby takes over his parent’s lives immediately and what little energy they have left they devote to their jobs at “Puppy Co.”
But the enjoyable silliness doesn't end with the title sequence, especially if you're willing to shoo away thoughts of the White House (the film is only a timely metaphor for that in the most accidental and crudest of ways, via the central title gag).
Most of the film takes place within Tim’s overactive fantasy life. Given that choice, the film is hopped up on stylized shifts within its visuals, like a scene where the hallway to the baby's room is suddenly longer and shadowed like a horror movie or frequent moments where Tim transports the characters into pirate-like adventures. Though Tim and his baby brother are initially at odds, if you've ever seen an animated American comedy in your life you know they'll eventually become friends and lessons will be learned. The actors help pull off this entirely predictable arc. Tim is voiced extremely well by 14 year old Miles Bakshi (who, as it turns out, is the grandson of infamous indie animation legend Ralph Bakshi!) and Alec Baldwin is the titular humorless infant. Baldwin's voice has long been one of his strongest weapons as an actor -- remember his glorious narration of The Royal Tenenbaums -- so in this rare case, celebrity stunt-casting works, even though it usually harms modern animated films.
The colorful visuals generate a surprising amount of laughs from the premise alone with crayons and other childhood objects standing in rather endearingly for their less fun office supply counterparts. But the funniest jokes are smarter, like Boss Baby's split second power naps, and especially the overwhelming cuteness of puppies as an existential threat to the existence of future babies. (If only heteronormativity were that easy to disrupt!).
Which is not to say that The Boss Baby is a great movie. For every tired joke that’s somehow made hugely funny again (Elvis impersonators!) there’s another which needs to be retired (a villain in drag. hahahaaa– you're killing me, Hollywood. No seriously you're killing me, just stop!). But even at its bumpiest the movie’s brisk pacing and surprising slapstick gags make this a good time at the movies.
Oscar Chances: With this year looking fairly dire for animated features (at least from this distance), perhaps it could be a surprise longshot for a nomination in that category?