The Boss Baby is a bun needing more time in the oven, some rethinking of what sort of animated comedy it wishes to be.
It could coast on casting Alec Baldwin's cobra baritone for the titular infant, maybe 15 minutes shorter and funnier than where it goes. I could listen to Boss Baby's drop-the-bottle remarks all day, but a messy plot gets in the way.
Director Tom McGrath inflates Marla Frazee's watercolor book into digital ambition that never quite takes off. What began as a bedtime update on Look Who's Talking gets turned Inside Out, shifting attention from the baby to his jealous older brother Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi). Tim's imagination is the emotional and visual boss here, a sidekick hijacking center stage.
The Boss Baby then goes completely off its stroller with a world domination scheme that I don't think screenwriter Michael McCullers thought all the way through. First of all, a world domination scheme in any animation these days is lazy storytelling. McCullers' attempt to make it appear fresh is a dud.
Boss Baby's mission is preventing the roll out of a new puppy breed guaranteed to adorably live forever. Puppies have been edging into babies' share of the love market and this invention could cause flatlined birth rates. In other words, the mastermind (Steve Buscemi) is ending the human race because puppies are cute. Try explaining that to the kiddies.
Thing is, two of these three directions could work if McGrath and his movie would just commit. (Maybe even the third, if Seths MacFarlane or Rogen made it.) Baldwin could carry The Boss Baby on his vocal cords or else Tim's inner turmoil might shed light on how boys think. Yet none of these avenues are fully explored.
McGrath is primarily a sight gagster; people hold his Madagascar movies and Megamind closer to their funny bones than their hearts. Perhaps what The Boss Baby could be is outside his wheelhouse. But there are occasional amusements including a baby factory prologue looking suspiciously like last year's Storks. Tim's imagination inspires shifts in animation styles, although his pop culture references (Six Million Dollar Man? Raiders of the Lost Ark?) say more about McGrath's childhood than a modern 7-year-old.
That sort of comedy disconnect weaves throughout The Boss Baby. Jokes are built around grownup ideas, leaving children at a recent screening laughing mainly at baby butts being assembly line-swaddled and dog-sniffed, or farted mushroom clouds of scented powder. Baldwin risked his current place at the center of entertainment's universe for this.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.