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Driven by goofiness, Boss Baby delivers surprising laughs

The totally stupid plot of Boss Baby, which features the voice of Alec Baldwin as a management executive who looks like an infant, is its saving grace. It’s a rare cartoon that actually feels like a cartoon.

DreamWorks Animation

3 out of 4 stars

The Boss Baby
Written by
Michael McCullers
Directed by
Tom McGrath
Voices of Alec Baldwin, Miles Christopher Bakshi and Steve Buscemi

A sure sign that a movie will, for better or worse, seep deeper into the cultural fabric is when you're already mocking it before it's released. Like Dirty Grandpa or Bad Moms, the new animated comedy The Boss Baby has a mid-altitude-concept title/premise so laughable that it is pretty much impossible not to, well, laugh at it. (Or indeed: to compulsively rap Eminem's The Real Slim Shady with the words "Boss Baby" substituted in the chorus.)

Yes, it's 2017, and the idea of a kiddie movie in which a small baby in a tailored business suit voiced by Alec Baldwin passes as reasonable entertainment. That Boss Baby arrives courtesy of the cine-content farm responsible for Turbo, The Croods and Shrek the Halls doesn't exactly buoy the spirit, either.

Surprising, then, that what might have otherwise been another abortive plop of a children's film emerges as a relative bundle of joy.

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The Boss Baby is the story of the Templetons: an all-American trifecta made up of Mom (Lisa Kudrow), Dad (Jimmy Kimmel) and seven-year-old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi). Like many cinematic heroes his age, Tim lives largely inside his imagination, cooking up fantastical dinosaur safaris and underwater expeditions that his parents gleefully take part in. The film bleeds between Tim's imaginary wonderlands and the "real" world, before blurring the line altogether with the arrival of the latest addition to the Templeton clan, Baldwin's Boss Baby.

When young Tim notices that the baby isn't quite what he seems – he wears a suit, he hosts mock boardroom meetings with neighbourhood newborns, he seems determined to exhaust his parents on a daily basis – he begins snooping around. Sure enough, Boss Baby isn't really a baby, but an upper-management exec from Baby Co., a company engaged in an immortal war for the affection of families everywhere. Their arch-rivals are adorable puppies, and the similarly structured cuteness conglomerate, Puppy Co. (which employs Ma and Pa Templeton, not incidentally). Despite their simmering fraternal animosity, Tim and Boss Baby must team up to stop Puppy Co.'s simpering, ghoulish CEO (Steve Buscemi, voicing a character who somehow looks even more like Steve Buscemi than Buscemi himself) from releasing a super-puppy bred to permanently tip the scales in favour of the canine cause.

That the plot is totally stupid is Boss Baby's saving grace. It's the rare cartoon that actually feels like a cartoon, propelled by its goofiness and sheer energy and rarely bogged down by boring, polemical lesson-learning. The animation is similarly silly and stylized, calling to mind mid-20th-century comic strips which only juices the madcap energy. A mid-film chase scene that sees Tim and Boss Baby escaping from the clutches of a lurching, transvestite babysitter is genuinely exciting and funny by most any standard.

Even when Boss Baby flirts with seriousness, it does so fairly convincingly: as in its resentful, power-mad, corporate-exec baddie genetically splicing dog DNA for maximal cuteness. It's an obvious, if nonetheless important, comment on the excesses of the global pet industry and the vain, meme-loving, animal-hating morons they exploit. And while it's all well and good to roll heavy eyes at jokes built around Baldwin, Boss Baby thrusts its laughable premise into compelling directions.

Maybe a baby in a very tiny tailored suit aggressively sucking on a bottle of warm milk is one of those things that's just inherently funny. If the endemic global amusement at a recent, super-serious BBC interview about Korean border relations being interrupted by a marching toddler in goofy glasses and a rolly-polly tot suspended in some mobile thingamajig proved anything, it's what, deep down, everyone already knew: It's a baby's world, baby. We're just living in it.

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