Director: Tom McGrath
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow
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Far from the consistency of other major animation studios, such as Pixar, Aardman or Laika, you never quite know which DreamWorks Animation is going to turn up. Their more acclaimed recent outings have have included the Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon movies, but their default mode is still broad comedy and so it goes with their 34th(!) film, The Boss Baby.
Inspired by Marla Frazee’s bestselling picture book of the same name, it’s all about Tim Templeton (voiced by Miles Bakshi), a seven-year-old daydreamer whose family life is disrupted by a bouncing baby brother. His parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) adore the little rascal, but only Tim sees him as he really is – a fast-talking, business-minded tyke, who has been sent by the mysterious Baby Corp and talks just like Alec Baldwin.
Famously, Disney convinced Robin Williams to play the role of the Genie in Aladdin, after animating a demo reel of the character performing the actor’s stand-up routine. Disney’s head at that time, Jeffrey Katzenberg, eventually split with the House of Mouse to form DreamWorks Animation, a studio that has always seemed fixated on reeling in big names to voice their movies.
Now, The Boss Baby feels like it might have been greenlit purely based on a room full of 40-something animators laughing at a CG baby doing Baldwin’s “coffee is for closers” routine from Glengarry Glen Ross. It feels more like proof of concept than a film, and given the number of intriguing projects that have fallen by the wayside over the years while this one was in development (not least of which was Shadows, a project that Edgar Wright was going to direct and co-write with David Walliams), The Boss Baby feels remarkably lazy.
It’s thoroughly unambitious fare, getting on better when it’s “just” a Tex Avery-style battle of wits between a kid and his infant brother than when it devolves into a dizzying progression of “And Then” storytelling that takes in a secret corporation staffed by rejected babies and a conspiracy involving cute puppies. The former, ably helmed by DreamWorks stalwart Tom McGrath, is fun, but it quickly becomes more trying.
McGrath directed the Madagascar movies and Megamind before this, so it’s not a completely comedy free zone, but the main basis on which to recommend the film is the studio’s recent ambition with animation techniques. Just as Trolls and Captain Underpants have experimented with hand-crafted and stylised aesthetics, the film makes artful use of retro artwork and 2D fantasy sequences alongside their more familiar digital house style.
The Boss Baby is nicely designed and even gets a few good slapstick laughs in the first half, but, as it veers into poorly affected kid logic, it quickly becomes tiresome. For all of its woolly contrivances, there’s no point in its 97-minute running time at which it ever rises above the slim premise of “what if a baby was a boss?”. It’s yet another uninspired DreamWorks film that leaves you wishing they were at least half as ambitious with their plots as they have been with their visuals. Unfortunately, the sequel will hit cinemas in 2021.
The Boss Baby is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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