Call it The Young Pope syndrome: A major entertainment company tries to stir up interest in a project with a bold, eye-catching title, only to see that interest backfire once Twitter starts laying into how ridiculous that title is. Trailers featuring a baby in a suit making Glengarry Glen Ross references are similarly bound to raise questions, which inevitably lead to more questions, a few of which we attempt to answer below.
Q: Where does Boss Baby come from?
A: He comes from BabyCorp, like all babies, although he failed to giggle when tickled with a feather on the assembly line, so he was placed in BabyCorp middle management instead of with a family that loves him.
Q: Is his name really Boss Baby?
A: Yes. It’s kind of sad, if you think about it.
Q: Does Boss Baby age?
A: No, because he drinks magic formula that keeps him in a baby’s body forever, kind of like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With The Vampire but without the existential angst. He keeps himself occupied with work. He’s fine.
Q: Ew, does that mean Boss Baby is a sexual being?
A: No. There is no sex in this universe (although there does seem to be pregnancy). That’s why BabyCorp exists.
Q: Why don’t adults know about BabyCorp?
A: We all know about BabyCorp when we’re first born, but forget after our pacifiers—which keep us in touch with our corporate origins in a process that’s part FaceTime and part peyote trip—are taken away. Adults in this universe are pretty oblivious in general: Boss Baby’s parents never question why he wears a suit or carries a briefcase, and babies roam freely through airports without anyone noticing.
Q: What is Boss Baby’s purpose?
A: His ultimate goal is being promoted to a position with a corner office overlooking what one can only assume is heaven. To achieve this, he’s going to Earth on a mission of corporate sabotage so he can stop the launch of the newest product from rival PuppyCorp, which threatens to make babies obsolete with its overwhelming cuteness.
Q: Do puppies run PuppyCorp, much like babies run BabyCorp?
A: Don’t be silly. Puppies can’t talk. PuppyCorp is run by an adult human named Francis Francis, voiced by Steve Buscemi. Francis Francis used to be a BabyCorp executive but was fired and now has to live as a grown-up, which upsets him greatly.
Q: What happens after Boss Baby achieves his goal and goes back to BabyCorp? Won’t his family miss him?
A: His 7-year-old brother might, depending on if the film’s lesson about sharing and the limitless nature of love sticks. The parents, as was previously mentioned, are idiots.
All of this complicated mythology—these are just the basics; there’s more where all this came from—was reverse-engineered from a kid’s book of the same title by Marla Frazee, playing on the anxiety that children feel when a younger sibling joins the family. With parents devoting all of their time and attention to the baby, an older sibling can start to feel left out, and even resent the baby who’s suddenly running the show like a little suit-clad executive who wants a bottle in his mouth or his diaper changed ASAP. It’s a simple metaphor, and a relatable one.
Frazee’s picture book stops there, though. The Boss Baby expanded universe is a creation of DreamWorks Animation’s design, and the further director Tom McGrath—who also helmed Megamind and the Madagascar movies for the company—strays from this core emotional truth, the more exhausting The Boss Baby becomes. The film opens with 7-year-old Tim (Miles Bakshi, grandson of Ralph) reminiscing about how perfect his life was when he was an only child, in whimsical and wonderfully animated fantasy sequences based on Frazee’s atomic-era-chic illustration style. Then Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin) shows up in a taxi and immediately takes over, driving Mom (Lisa Kudrow) and Dad (Jimmy Kimmel) to exhaustion meeting his demands. Soon after his arrival, Tim overhears Boss Baby on a business call to BabyCorp upper management, and sets out to obtain proof that his little brother is not what he seems.
That’s maybe the opening 20 minutes of the film; by the time the climax approaches, Tim and Boss Baby are flying first-class to Las Vegas—Boss Baby doesn’t do coach—on a plane full of Elvis impersonators, on their way to stop a literal rocket ship full of puppies from being launched into orbit. It’s established several times over that Tim is an exceedingly imaginative child, which would seem to explain why this movie gets kookier and more manic with every passing set piece—except for the switch between graphic 2-D animation in Tim’s fantasies and 3-D animated “reality.” (The kids still look like Kewpie dolls, so the realism is relative.) This is, indeed, all really happening. We think.
Basically, this movie is exceedingly clever until it isn’t, finding creative ways to explain outrageous plot points until it gets tired and starts bombarding its young target audience with chase sequences instead. The jokes are similarly half-hearted; although credit must be given for going relatively light on cheap pop culture gags (Glengarry joke aside), the film fills that void with more puke, poopy diapers, and bare baby butts than anyone who doesn’t work at a daycare should be forced to endure in the span of less than two hours. The film does occasionally show flashes of inspiration, particularly during its emotionally effective first act, and the animation is undeniably lovely in parts. If it had learned to edit itself, it could have been more than a punchline.