Monday, 3 April 2017

Movie Review: The Boss Baby (2017)



Well, today’s feature marks another genuine first for this blog. Of all the weird and disheartening pre-ambles I’ve seen leading up to a film, I’ve never really come across a film that actively had to convince that it even existed. Seriously, this film comes across like a one-off joke that Baldwin would make in-between Trump caricaturing, or worse yet an Asylum rip-off of last year’s The Boss. It probably doesn’t help that, in the lead-up to its release, I have only ever seen the teaser trailer for this film which barely showed anything. Between the dubious concept and the minimal sketch-length trailer, I can’t be the only one who thought that this thing was a bit suspect. (And yes, I know, Beauty And The Beast trailer thing; I saw this a few days before that hit the news so, over here, it still feels off) Then again, I had similarly negative thoughts with Dreamworks’ last film Trolls’ pre-amble and I ended up really liking that film. Maybe the same could happen here? This is The Boss Baby.

The plot: Seven-year-old Tim Templeton (Miles Bakshi) has a very fun and adventurous life with his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). However, upon the arrival of his new baby brother The Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), his once-idyllic life has been taken over by the endlessly-demanding Baby. However, even though they both have their issues with each other, Tim and The Boss Baby will have to join forces in order to fulfill the Baby’s role in the underground war between babies and puppies.

The cast, considering both the premise and the names attached to it, are far better than I was expecting. This will be a recurring theme of this review, but all in due time. Bakshi gives the highly imaginative Tim a very believable presence as the fundamentally jealous older sibling, working with all the different avenues his character goes into quite well. Tobey Maguire as the adult Tim and narrator is okay, but honestly, he doesn’t stand out too much. Opposite him, Baldwin may fall a bit into the one-joke caricature he’s been given but, when tasked with delivering drama, he does admirably well. Kimmel and Kudrow, both rather notorious for their love-them-or-hate-them kneejerk reactions from audiences (I personally fall very much into the latter), are actually quite good here as what can be described as the innocent bystanders of the story. Then there’s Steve Buscemi as the villain Francis E. Francis, and aside from being a touch unrecognizable, is not only solid as the bad guy but also sells the surprisingly emotional backstory to his character as well.

When I looked at Middle School and complained about its half-hearted use of the main character’s fantasy life, this is the kind of film that shows how to do that same idea right. Not only does Tim’s imagination lead to some pretty cool sequences, aided by the surprisingly malleable animation, it also ends up bolstering the already wonky-bonkers story. The whole film feels like something Illumination would have had a hand in making because it has a very Looney Tunes approach to its animation and slapstick, resulting in a very visually enticing offering. The individual sequences, both in and out of Tim’s imagination, almost always appeal to Rule Of Weird: Elvis conventions, chase scenes involving a cross-dressing Igor babysitter, a rocket filled with puppies; it’s kind of difficult not to find some joy in all this.

The comedy, as weird as it sounds, feels like it was designed more for adults than it was for kids. I say this because there are a lot of jokes surrounding business jargon, playing on the main plot being a corporate takeover in the business of cuteness with babies and puppies as the two opposing companies. Add to that the references to more adult films, like a one-liner call-back to Baldwin’s role in Glengarry Glen Ross, and you’d think that the soft-edges and bounciness of the animation was just a smokescreen. That is, until you start to realise just how many baby butts are in this thing. Considering the film’s depiction of cute as business strategy, I get why it’s here at all but that doesn’t shake how slightly icky I feel while watching it. This amount of infant nudity would normally get people on a government watch list, and yet it’s perfectly fine here; I don’t get it.

Most surprising of all, though, is the main message of the film and how damn affecting it is. As you can probably guess from the relatively minute trailer, this is about learning to live with newborn siblings and feelings of abandonment in light of them. Now, as someone who honestly went through similar feelings when my own brothers were born, I definitely understand the sentiment already. What helps this is that, through Tim and the titular Boss Baby, the message is given quite a bit of emotional weight as well, resulting in quite a few touching moments… and not just for the little ones either. The thing that really makes this message stick is how it plays into the film’s want to connect with the parents as well, taking the “younger is cuter and more interesting” mindset and applying it to the adult workforce where similar modes of vying for primary attention with the higher-ups goes on. The realistically-farcical idea that love is a finite resource and forces need to compete for it, aside from being a solid lesson for kids, is also portrayed in a way that has it make real-world sense for adults.

All in all, I don’t think anyone was expecting this. For the second time in a row, Dreamworks has presented us with what should be an awful work and ended up delivering a pretty damn good family film. While its attempts to appeal to both children and adults can get lopsided at times, its sheer creativity combined with a solid parable that has use for both parties results in a film that I am genuinely impressed with. It’s better than The Great Wall as, while this may not have the same visual grandeur, it’s honestly a lot better when it comes to characterisation and emotional investment. However, by that same token, Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale hit even harder in both those aspects so this falls just short of that.

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