THE BOSS BABY: Donald Trump, The Diaper Years
The Boss Baby offers occasional laughs and is clearly politically-driven, yet it is ultimately fleeting, forgettable entertainment.
With Alec Baldwin voicing the lead character, a hard-driving baby executive who wears a suit (with sock garters, no less) and carries a briefcase, the Trump jokes were inevitable. Of course the book The Boss Baby it is based on was published long before Trump publicly expressed any political ambitions, and in fact the movie had to be in production before the most recent presidential campaign. Still, with Baldwin’s voice coming out of a blond baby in a suit, bossing everyone around with a pout, bears a startling resemblance to Trump’s facial grimaces, well, you get the idea.
Most of the plot added for the movie
The Boss Baby is based on author Marla Frazee’s board book of the same name. Unlike typical adaptations, where material has to be cut from a novel to make a reasonable length script, the thirty-six page long board book is actually far shorter than the average screenplay. As the source material wouldn’t support a feature length plot, a lot of material has been created and shoehorned in, with uneven results.
It’s all in your head
Seven-year old Tim (voice performance by Miles Christopher Bakshi) loves his idyllic life with his parents (voice performances by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). Then the Boss Baby arrives (in a cab, no less) from Baby Corp., a baby-making corporation in the sky, sort of an assembly-line version of Heaven, the little brother he never wanted. Tim has a vibrantly, if not hallucinatorily, active imagination and turns virtually everything that happens to him into a story. And in fact, it develops that the entire movie may be a metaphoric representation of Tim’s feelings of being threatened by the new baby, and isn’t actually happening.
It is surprisingly difficult to get a compelling story out of something that the audience is told is completely a figment of the main character’s imagination. The Wizard of Oz pulled it off, and after that the line shortens. As a rule audiences don’t like to invest themselves in fiction they’re told is more than fictitious – but actually didn’t really happen from the standpoint of the story’s fictitious characters.
More cluttered than complex, and oddly distancing
Don’t worry. The movie is not as complex as that sounds. It’s actually more cluttered than complex. This is not Pixar’s groundbreaking Inside Out. In fact, instead of taking us deeper into a child’s reality the way Inside Out did, The Boss Baby is hyperactive (and visually very, very busy), alternating between the filtered reality and Tim’s more blatant fantasy scenarios. And yet it doesn’t seem to actually have much to do with a child’s experience. Corporate satire is fairly alien to children, thank God, but much of this movie trades in exactly that.
The baby-as-boss metaphor isn’t just absurd humor; it’s a commentary that makes a great deal of sense. Parents will easily relate to the movie’s central concept – baby joins family and suddenly the entire household is being run by a short, Trumpian CEO from Hell who turns the entire enterprise on its head. Babies are bosses – every parent knows that. But the way The Boss Baby approaches the idea is oddly distancing, and just as oddly, does not mesh smoothly with the corporation jokes.
Mechanically relentless plot
The plot we are presented with, which has something to do with sort of celestial industrial espionage and a plot to replace babies with perpetual puppies, is mechanically relentless, an animated Terminator with Margaret Keane eyes. Tim’s parents both work for Puppy Co., which is about to do a big, Apple-style product launch of their new Forever Puppy, a puppy that stays a puppy forever. This of course will make puppies more popular than babies. I know, but that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. The fact that it isn’t actually happening doesn’t do anything to make it feel more compelling.
Director Tim McGrath, who also helmed Megamind and the Madagascar films, certainly is no stranger to visually ambitious and complicated designs, and The Boss Baby is mind-blowingly gorgeous to look at. The action scenes are fluid, and he transitions between Tim’s elaborate daydream fantasies and the central action without missing a beat. That doesn’t straighten out the problems with the entire concept of the movie, but it certainly is pretty to look at.
There is humor but best jokes are in the trailer
And not that there aren’t amusing moments along the way, particularly if you manage to forget the story isn’t really happening. Boss Baby is desperate to prevent the Forever Puppy from being put on the market, because that’s the only way for him to get promoted to the highest echelons of Baby Corp. A stock cartoon Puppy Co. henchman chases the Boss Baby and Tim around as they try to get to the product launch in Las Vegas, leading to some genuinely amusing jokes about the unaffordability of flying First Class.
The plane is populated by Elvis impersonators whose impressions of the King have all but turned into their own language, and that’s funny. This is, however, one of those comedies where most of the best jokes are in the trailers, which, sadly includes the line “Cookies are for closers,” harkening back to Baldwin’s role in Glengarry Glen Ross.
May appeal more to parents than kids
Whether kids will get any of this grownup humor is an open question. Do little kids know about water cooler talk, business meetings and the cutthroat corporate culture in general? They will enjoy the incongruity of Alec Baldwin’s voice coming out of a baby, the sort of humor that actually worked in the critically reviled Look Who’s Talking movies. The Boss Baby therefore finds itself in the unusual position of being an animated film that will rely on parents dragging their children to see it, rather than the other way around.
In the end, The Baby Boss is about reluctant brotherhood overcoming the trials of sibling rivalry, and the climax is predictable. There is something forced and artificial about the inevitable heart-string plucking, which isn’t to say it doesn’t work at all. But it works the way your favorite assembly line cookie works – there’s some satisfaction in the sugar rush, but you knew the first one would look exactly like the last one and would taste exactly the same.
You are meant to have your heart warmed by the heartwarming story of reluctant brotherhood. In fact, they do everything but flash neon cue signs: say “Aww” now… And ultimately there is something heartwarming about it, but make no mistake that this is also a factory-produced movie about factory-produced babies. There are movies where the corporate decision-making trumps screenwriting, and this is definitely one of them. The Boss Baby does deliver laughs, but it is also trying to deliver more than its premise can really bear.
What do you think? Is The Boss Baby a heartwarming metaphor for sibling rivalry or a canny satire on American corporate culture? Neither? Both?
The Boss Baby is now playing in the United States, and opens April 7th, 2017 in the United Kingdom.
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