In the midst of a host of projects that DreamWorks Animation has cancelled or shuffled around its schedules these part few years – the likes of B.O.O., The Croods 2, Me & My Shadow and Mumbai Musical have all been quietly shelved – one film that has remained pretty much bulletproof is The Boss Baby. Based on the short book by Marla Frazee, it’s the fifth feature from director Tom McGrath, and I think the clue for its endurance lies there. Across his previous four movies – the Madagascar films, and Megamind – McGrath has demonstrated a very able touch for comedy, and I suspect that were he working in live action, he’d be far more known that he is.
The Boss Baby isn’t his best film, I’d argue, but reading around some of the critical reactions to it so far, I seem to have enjoyed it a lot more than most. Its setup is explained in a delightful opening, where we get to see where babies come from. Not in a 50 Shades kind of way, rather that babies pop out of Babycorp (not a euphemism), and are duly sorted out, ready for delivery to their families. That’s save for the odd one, who gets identified as management, and heads off to Babycorp, to head off the threat posed by cute kittens and such like.
Posited against this is Tim, a boy having the time of his life. An only child, he gets all the attention from his doting parents and… well, you can see where this is going.
The Boss Baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin, thus ends up, through plot machinations, in Tim’s home, and as these things go, the two don’t get on. And it’s in the early stages of the film where it’s at its most successful. Tim’s continuing attempts to alert his parents to the fact that their new child can actually talk, and holds business meetings, is a lot of fun, and I found myself consistently chuckling, and enjoying the set up.
In much the same way that Illumination’s The Secret Life Of Pets came up with a fun concept, and then lost its ways when it dispensed of that to subsequently find a plot, so The Boss Baby also falters as the broader story is revealed. It boils down to a required corporate infiltration (that’s not a euphemism either), which would feel like running on the spot, were it not for McGrath and his team’s commitment to throwing in jokes. You get a broad mix here, from bum sniffing to Glengarry Glen Ross references, and while the packed screening I was in never erupted in laughter, the film was accompanied by regular chuckles.
Bringing that The Secret Life Of Pets parallel back in for a second, I do think The Boss Baby has more in its tank in its second half than Illumination’s animal caper. Furthermore, it’s far more ambitious with its animation. The film plays with perspectives quite a lot, and switches styles to move away from the seemingly necessary realism that many computer animated films have slavishly gone along with (DreamWorks has been as guilty of this as any other).
The Boss Baby isn’t a vintage film, and once you start stacking it against the output of Walt Disney Animation Studios these past few years, its comparable lack of ambition is pronounced. But it’s fun, and it’s funny. Furthermore, I took a 13-year old, an 8-year old and a 4-year old, and each reported that they were suitably entertained, and had laughed their way through it. And let me tell you, that 13-year old is one picky teenager…
The Boss Baby is in UK cinemas now.