Baby on board ... of direc­tors

National Post (National Edition) - - POST MOVIES - TINA HAS­SAN­NIA

Try to think of a sin­gle an­i­mated film made by Dis­ney, Pixar or DreamWorks that doesn’t feature some fan­tas­ti­cal beast, an an­thro­po­mor­phic char­ac­ter or a world un­like our own.

High-con­cept premises are vir­tu­ally a given when it comes to car­toons, but Boss Baby is one of a hand­ful of con­tem­po­rary an­i­mated fea­tures that could have eas­ily been live ac­tion, re­quir­ing lit­tle to no CGI and few spe­cial ef­fects. It em­ploys only hu­man char­ac­ters, and its sin­gle fan­tas­ti­cal con­ceit is tied to things we’re fa­mil­iar with: ba­bies, fam­i­lies, hu­man cre­ation and cor­po­rate cul­ture.

Re­ally, the film has more in com­mon with ex­is­ten­tial drame­dies like Ground­hog Day, De­fend­ing Your Life and Click, rather than most kids’ films (ex­cept per­haps All Dogs Go To Heaven). Un­like most of those films though, Boss Baby’s premise is con­vo­luted and com­pli­cated: ba­bies are mass pro­duced and slated ei­ther as “fam­ily” or “man­age­ment,” depend­ing on whether or not they’re tick­lish (stay with me, now).

“Fam­ily” ba­bies grow up like nor­mal hu­man be­ings, while “man­age­ment” ba­bies drink a spe­cial for­mula that lets them re­main fully formed adults in baby bod­ies to help keep Baby Corp run­ning. The com­pany en­sures that ba­bies re­main the cutest and most de­sir­able thing of all time, but they now face stiff com­pe­ti­tion from pup­pies. Baby Corp is wor­ried that if it doesn’t keep its num­bers up, hu­mans will no longer want ba­bies. Oh, the cap­i­tal­ist anx­i­ety! It’s an ab­surd, silly premise, cer­tainly, but it’s tied to a fam­ily story that makes it en­durable. Tim (Miles Christo­pher Bak­shi), a cre­ative seven-year-old, loves his ador­ing par­ents who de­vote ev­ery iota of at­ten­tion to his hap­pi­ness, singing him to sleep ev­ery night with the Bea­tles’ Black­bird. But Tim doesn’t quite un­der­stand how ba­bies come into ex­is­tence and feels threat­ened by the prospect of a new brother, so his over-imag­i­na­tive brain takes over.

When his younger brother ar­rives, we un­der­stand his ap­pre­hen­sion. Who would want a sour-faced baby voiced by Alec Bald­win as a younger brother? Tim is the only one who sus­pects Boss Baby (yes that’s ac­tu­ally his name) is up to some­thing. Boss Baby can cer­tainly play cute when nec­es­sary, but he’s re­ally the kind of slick, cor­po­rate shark Bald­win has por­trayed in a va­ri­ety of roles.

He wears a suit and tie, car­ries a brief­case, throws bills at peo­ple as a quick­fix so­lu­tion. Boss Baby is all busi­ness. The am­bi­tious en­fant ter­ri­ble wants to climb all the rungs on the Baby Corp lad­der to nab the cor­ner of­fice. Be­cause Tim doesn’t want a brother any­way, the two be­grudg­ingly team up. Baby Boss’ un­der­cover mis­sion is to find in­tel on his com­pe­ti­tion’s new prod­uct: Puppy Co.’s new dog breed that stays pup­py­ish for­ever.

Through their com­bined team­work, the two broth­ers come to tol­er­ate, like and even love each other (it hands Boss Baby his own ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis, de­cid­ing if man­age­ment is re­ally his call­ing af­ter all). The tit­u­lar cor­po­rate-tot throws out one busi­ness buzz word af­ter an­other — “Cook­ies are for closers” is sadly the only ref­er­ence to a Bald­win movie we get — and white-col­lared par­ents will lap up these jokes like noth­ing else.

But the most dis­ap­point­ing thing about Boss Baby is not its ridicu­lous premise and name, but some­thing that Boss Baby would have surely learned in Mar­ket­ing 101. Who is this movie’s de­mo­graphic? Is it the par­ents, or the chil­dren? It re­mains to be seen if kids old enough to un­der­stand the story would find it in­ter­est­ing, and the film plays it lowkey with phys­i­cal hu­mour, which could have made this more en­ter­tain­ing for younger kids.

The screen­ing I at­tended pro­duced far more adult guf­faws than chil­dren’s chuck­les. Tim is their gate­way into the film, but he’s a pretty bor­ing pro­tag­o­nist – even his Gan­dalf-im­i­ta­tion alarm clock “Wizzy” has more per­son­al­ity. ∂∂

DREAMWORKS AN­I­MA­TION

Boss Baby (voiced by Alec Bald­win) tries to con­vince Tim (voiced by Miles Bak­shi) that they must co-op­er­ate in The Boss Baby.

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