“The Boss Baby,” starring Alec Baldwin as the voice of a suit-wearing infant sent to an unsuspecting family to fulfill a secret mission on behalf of BabyCorp — that’s the heaven-based company in charge of the world’s babies, which are treated like a separate species from other humans — sounds like a fictional bad movie in a Hollywood satire.
It gets more dire when you realize it’s a feature-length extrapolation of a plotless 225-word picture book (by Marla Frazee) that had only one simple, gentle joke: a new baby in the house is the “boss” of everyone, calling “meetings” in the middle of the night, making his or her “employees” work overtime, and so forth. From this they derived a whole movie?
But the movie is real, and it’s … good? Good enough, anyway? Written by Michael McCullers (“Baby Mama,” no relation) and directed by Tom McGrath (“Madagascar”), it expands the book’s cute central gag into a creative, unassuming take on fraternal bonding. Though the fictional world it creates crumbles under the slightest scrutiny, the film avoids being the type of dumb children’s movie that entertains tykes while annoying their parents.
Sometime in the recent, pre-digital past, we meet 7-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi), the adult version of whom (Tobey Maguire) serves as narrator. Young Tim loves being an only child and is alarmed when his parents (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) bring home a baby brother. (The fact that they don’t bother to give him a name should set Tim’s mind at ease.) The new kid wears a suit, having been identified in the pre-mortal realm as a Management baby, not a Family baby. The parents take the suit to be an amusing affectation over which they have no control, just as the baby’s arrival seems to have had nothing to do with them. You kind of just have to go with it.
Anyway, unbeknownst to Mom and Dad, the new baby has a cunning adult mind and is tasked with spying on them — they work for a pet conglomerate — to sabotage a new breed of puppy that would threaten babies’ share of the “adorable thing families bring home” market. Yes, it is a story about corporate espionage. Tim uncovers the baby’s secret identity and tries to expose him as an interloper, but he and the other neighborhood babies revert to goo-goo gah-gah when adults are around. (There are some funny bits with Boss Baby’s underlings being as self-aware as he is but not as dextrous.) The boys eventually work together on the mission and fall into brotherly love. Aw!
Much of the early part of the film rings comfortably true as we see the arrival of a new baby through the eyes of his imaginative older brother. Tim’s flights of fancy (his bedroom becomes a prison when he’s grounded) are good for some hearty laughs when we switch to the objective reality point of view, though it gets confusing when objective reality becomes more surreal than Tim’s imagination — like when he and the baby sneak to Las Vegas on a plane full of Elvis impersonators, for example.
But it’s pleasantly non-snarky for a DreamWorks ‘toon, doesn’t overdo the sappy stuff, either, and doesn’t weigh itself down with endless pop-culture references (the studio has been getting better about that lately). The humor is easygoing and inoffensive, aimed at kids but sharp enough not to seem mindless to adults. Everybody wins. Unless the film leads to questions about where babies actually come from. But that’s your problem, not mine.
B (1 hr., 37 min.; )