Words like "inventive" and "inspired" are very rarely applied to the parade of cookie-cutter animated features that pass through the multiplex each year, but The Boss Baby proves a refreshing exception.
Based on the 36-page picture book by Marla Frazee and featuring the pitch-perfect voice of Alec Baldwin as a onesie suit-wearing, corporate-minded blessed arrival, this DreamWorks Animation effort is a delightful blend of clever and tender that's certain to tickle audiences of all ages and stages.
Although the setup might have suggested otherwise, with the depiction of a newborn assembly line that resembled the schematic for last year’s Storks, the scenario breaks from convention with its introduction to seven-year-old Tim Templeton (voiced by Miles Bakshi): an only child with an overactive imagination who’s convinced that he and his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) form an ideal family unit.
But mom and dad have other ideas, and one day bring home a little brother for Tim — albeit one in full business attire who totes a briefcase and speaks (when the adults aren’t within earshot) with Mr. Baldwin’s commanding yet cordial tones. It turns out he’s a tot on a mission, dispatched by Babycorp headquarters to prevent an adorable puppy product launch by arch-rival Puppyco that threatens to divert parental affection away from drooling diaper-wearers the world over.
Despite their mutual distrust, Tim and The Boss Baby (tellingly, he hasn’t been given a name, at least in the eyes of his displeased big brother) must form a reluctant alliance in order to engage in some highly classified industrial espionage, leading to a clever plot resolution that thoughtfully ties up any loose ends.
Of course, the concept of infants with not so infantile voices is nothing new (see: Stewie on Family Guy, the Look Who’s Talking movies), but in the capable hands of director Tom McGrath (co-director of the three Madagascar movies) and screenwriter Michael McCullers (Mike Myers’ collaborator on the second and third Austin Powers pictures), The Boss Baby has an agenda all its own.
And it’s one that delivers the entertaining goods while addressing universal truths about family bonds and the fertile, limitless boundaries of a child’s imagination that, like those emotional touchstones in the Toy Story films, feel honest and organic to the storytelling. Even the obligatory bodily function jokes are tastefully executed.
While Baldwin, who seems to have cornered the market when it comes to playing conceited man-babies, handily crawls away with the picture (it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role), he gets solid backup from his fellow voice cast. They include Steve Buscemi as a former Babycorp exec harboring a serious grudge; Tobey Maguire, handling narration as Tim’s older self; and James McGrath (the director’s nephew) as Wizzie, Tim’s amusingly theatrical, Gandalf-like, talking wizard alarm clock.
Visually, there’s a retro look and feel to the animation that plays affectionate homage to Looney Tunes legends Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng, while simultaneously drawing upon new wrinkles in computer animation that allow the action to follow the lead of Tim’s vivid fantasy life.
Those nostalgic underpinnings are also nicely incorporated into the appropriately bubbly score by Hans Zimmer and frequent collaborator Steve Mazzaro.