PG for baby butts. Lots of them.
DIRECTOR: Tom McGrath
How I love low expectations! I'm finding a silver lining to negative reviews. Sure, negative reviews have completely tanked a lot of movies that I really enjoy and would like to share with the world. But negative reviews put me in the perfect mindset for a surprise. Blah, blah, blah, you've read this before, but many of these movies on this page are family movie nights. I saw the trailer for The Boss Baby and I giggled a few times. I knew it was going to be super dumb, but I don't mind super dumb sometimes. If super dumb can make me laugh, I'll probably enjoy it. This might have been one of those examples of those movies where the critics probably decided to hate it before they actually reviewed it. NOT THIS GUY! This guy isn't being paid to write this. It just makes him look good to his boss, who probably doesn't really read this.
I can see why people hated it outside of the pre-haters and their pre-hatorade. It toes the line between pandering and having heart. There are SO many fart and butt jokes that I know that the hoity-toities out there probably kept spitting their fancy teas all over the people in front of them. Nobody likes spitting up fancy tea, let alone having fancy tea spit all over them. I admit, the butt and fart jokes get to be a bit much. But butt and fart jokes really work because butt and fart jokes are funny. If it's animated, I'm going to compare it to Disney, so here I go again. I know that Disney doesn't really indulge too much into the potty humor, but it works given the subject matter of Boss Baby. There is a repercussion to having so much potty humor though; it makes the movie feel cheap. When Disney makes a movie without all of that, it feels like a movie is being added to the canon of great family films. Kids still watch Little Mermaid and Snow White because they are movies that are going to outlive fads. Yes, Frozen laid waste to other films and became the super fad, but "Let It Go" will be one of those known movies for years. There's a little potty humor, but nothing that was outright pandering to kids. Boss Baby's biggest fault is that it doesn't have faith in its product. It is fighting the box office, not history. That is a real shame because the movie does actually have quite a bit of heart. The central themes and their executions are powerful. McGrath paints a lovely picture of a kid and his love of his imagination. The struggles of an expanding family (which is what I imagine the original book was probably about) is universal and great for my kids who often fight over stupid things. The relationship between parents and kids really works. So why treat the work like it needs to get so many laughs per second, regardless of depth? Here I am, waxing poetic about how fart jokes don't matter, yet I love fart jokes. But I also acknowledge that it is like eating too much candy that doesn't really pair up with a fancy meal. It sours the whole thing a little, even if we think we like it.
The aesthetics of this movie are a heck of a choice. Most of the imagery that are associated with the film either through trailers or other marketing is pretty boring. The look of the movie mirrors the rest of the Dreamworks lot, safe and goofy. I think that there is a mandate among the non-Disney character design teams to mimic the look of caricature artists at theme parks. But there is a completely different look for the movie that is actually very cool and very impressive. When Tim (hey, that's my name!) gets lost in his imagination, that's when the movie gets to be something quite gorgeous. I noticed that there is a whole separate team when it comes to Tim's imagination. Perhaps some people would roll their eyes at these scenes because they don't necessarily rock people's socks, but there is definitely a separate layer of creativity going on in these moments. While I might not wholly support this idea, the imagination stuff may not get its due in this movie. Like I mentioned with the themes earlier, there's a lot of stuff going on here. I think that the imagination stuff needs to stick in there, but the movie uses imagination sequences to further the plot and give the movie a little gravitas. I love the idea that the only child using imagination to dictate the events of his life. Why I also support the imagination sequences is that it lends a bit of credibility to the story. It is super confusing what is real and what isn't in the movie and a lot of that can be written off with the idea that this is all in Tim's head. There's one shot that really sells the joke of Tim being dragged behind the Boss Baby's car. It is the most simple explanation for all the ridiculous stuff going on in the movie. I don't think that there has ever been a more brief explanation for something so complicated. If you REALLY wanted to, you could start dissecting reality and fiction. After all, Tim has an Inception level imagination in the movie if you take this explanation into account. But the movie attitude towards all of this is simply one of acceptance. The movie is fun because of Tim's imagination. Who knows if the Boss Baby existed? Probably not, but that's really not important. The importance is that Tim deals with a new family member in his own way that helps him cope with the changes coming to his family.
I think I'm going to verbalize what everyone's saying. Alec Baldwin is just playing Jack Donaghey again, only this time he's a baby. You could also argue that he's playing his role from Glengarry Glen Ross, but that was the inspiration for Jack and the baby curses less. They even took the tagline from Glengarry for the poster, so I don't think anyone is hiding what is really going on here. That character is perfect. Every time I get weirded out by Alec Baldwin's real life shennangans (I apologize for being flippant, but he's oddly in my good graces right now --although he shouldn't be), he pulls this character out and my moral compass falls in the toilet again. I don't know what it is about Alec Baldwin playing this character the way he does that makes jokes really work. The smarter side of me says that it shouldn't work. The jokes often don't go beyond "A baby shouldn't act that way! That's what adults do!" But I still laugh. I still laugh hard. Maybe this is where casting a perfect actor can do. It can turn a mediocre script into something that's really great. The rest of the cast is fine. I find it odd that Jimmy Kimmel plays the dad because that character is a really throwaway part with little humor or even presence in the movie. I guess the same deal goes true for Lisa Kudrow (although Mom had more than her fair share of Kudrow-looks). In the great battles that comprise the War of Animation, the trailers are doing all of the heavy lifting by listing amazing casts, regardless of how much involvement the actors have. Paying out the nose to have these A-list stars sometimes seems silly. I'm thinking back to the trailers for stuff like Despicable Me 3 and all I can think is just a litany of big name stars. Is this where all the money is going for these movies? Just so they can launch last names across the screen for a half second because those voice actors don't really have much to do with the movie. They even got Tobey Maguire to play the adult version of Tim, a la Fred Savage and The Wonder Years. (I know. Fred Savage played the kid and someone else played the adult. Daniel Stern. I looked it up. You're welcome.) Tobey Maguire does his Great Gatsby narration for this movie too and it works. But did it need to be Tobey Maguire to work. His narration had to take only a few hours to do the whole movie, right? There's not that much narration in the film, but it seems like that's where the money is going.
I liked this movie more than I should have. I wish it felt like it valued itself more than it did. It is very close to being a good movie, but I think that Dreamworks knew what property it had on its hands. (Baby poop pun intended.) It could have fought hard and tried to make a classic or it could have made a funny movie that will probably generate a sequel somewhere down the road. Regardless, I had a lot of fun. Go in with low expectations and be cool with disagreeing with critics. Heck, disagree with me. Just go in with a positive attitude and the worst case scenario says you don't like it. Give it a shot.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.