The Boss Baby

‘Boss Baby’ is not just a sin­gle-joke film — it has uni­ver­sal res­o­nance

The Washington Post - - STYLE - BY PAT PADUA

Don’t dis­miss it be­cause of the un­promis­ing trail­ers: It res­onates above age level.

Who needs a movie about a tyran­ni­cal in­fant — or an in­fan­tile tyrant — any­way? You might be sur­prised to learn that you do. Al­though its advertising cam­paign seems to prom­ise lit­tle more than an an­i­mated com­edy about a bratty baby in a busi­ness suit, “The Boss Baby” (adapted from the 2010 book by au­thor and il­lus­tra­tor Marla Frazee) is a sweet ad­ven­ture tale about sib­ling ri­valry that ul­ti­mately be­comes a mov­ing trib­ute to fam­ily and broth­er­hood.

Seven-year-old Tim (voice of Miles Christo­pher Bak­shi) is an only child, bask­ing in the un­di­vided at­ten­tion of his par­ents. He has a wild imag­i­na­tion, dream­ing up elab­o­rate imag­i­nary res­cue sce­nar­ios in­volv­ing pi­rates and rocket ships. But this per­fect life is up­set by the ar­rival of a new baby brother (Alec Bald­win), who ap­pears not in the usual fash­ion, but has been sent to Earth via a heav­enly sort­ing pro­ce­dure that di­vides new­borns into lov­ing fam­ily types and “man­age­ment” ba­bies, raised in cu­bi­cle farms and emerg­ing into the world wear­ing three-piece suits and car­ry­ing brief­cases.

From Tim’s (ad­mit­tedly un­re­li­able) per­spec­tive, his un­named mid­dle-man­ager sib­ling uses play dates to con­duct meet­ings, fielding busi­ness calls on a Fisher Price toy tele­phone. (The film takes place in an in­de­ter­mi­nate time pe­riod — per­haps the early 1990s — in which there are com­put­ers, but no cell­phones.) Boss Baby de­mands com­plete at­ten­tion from his par­ents, leav­ing Tim feel­ing ne­glected. This trans­forms “The Boss Baby” from a sin­gle-joke movie to a story with a deeper, more uni­ver­sal res­o­nance. Af­ter all, who among us — even an only child — hasn’t felt the pang of aban­don­ment, if not sib­ling ri­valry, at some point?

Tim and his lit­tle brother are bit­ter ri­vals un­til Boss Baby re­veals an im­por­tant se­cret mis­sion to stop what poses the direst threat to what the film posits is ba­bies’ al­ready ten­u­ous hold on parental love: pup­pies.

Al­though the film’s char­ac­ter de­sign is, for the most part, undis­tin­guished, its vivid back­grounds are in­formed by both pop-up books and quirky mid­cen­tury de­sign, and the script (by Michael McCullers of both “Austin Pow­ers” se­quels) drops pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences that range from “Tele­tub­bies” to “Apoc­a­lypse Now.” The an­i­ma­tion con­cept for the film’s ri­val com­pa­nies — Baby Corp. and Puppy Co. — is im­pres­sively fu­tur­is­tic.

Yet what re­ally drives the film is the cen­tral re­la­tion­ship, a fra­ter­nal dy­namic that, de­spite be­ing based on a flight of fancy, is more con­vinc­ing than many live­ac­tion fam­ily come­dies man­age to be. While “The Boss Baby’s” cor­po­rate ad­ven­tures are clearly the prod­uct of a child’s over­ac­tive imag­i­na­tion, the film’s lessons — about how both Tim and Boss Baby must learn to come to terms with each other — are very valid.

Direc­tor Tom McGrath (“Mada­gas­car”) strikes a fine bal­ance be­tween hu­mor and sen­ti­ment, never los­ing sight of the ten­der re­al­ity that fu­els child­hood fan­tasy. In­ven­tive and heart­warm­ing, “The Boss Baby” is a lot more grown up than it looks.

DREAMWORKS AN­I­MA­TION

Boss Baby (Alec Bald­win) and his 7-year-old brother, Tim (Miles Christo­pher Bak­shi), work on a se­cret mis­sion to stop what poses the direst threat to what the film posits is ba­bies’ al­ready ten­u­ous hold on parental love: pup­pies.

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