Let’s address the elephant-sized diaper in the room, shall we? No, The Boss Baby is not about Donald Trump. Not that director Tom McGrath, or screenwriter Michael McCullers, or anyone at Fox or Dreamworks Animation would ever say that it was; it’s safe to assume that this adaptation of Marla Frazee’s 2010 children’s book was in the works long before our current administration slithered its way into office. But given that this tiny tyrant is voiced by none other than Alec Baldwin, who’s carved out a lucrative side career imitating an infantile commander-in-chief, and that the film revolves a tantrum-throwing toddler in a suit, well … you can see why people might draw conclusions. There are some key differences between the two, it should be noted. Baldwin’s Boss Baby isn’t trying to have any of his non-pale-hued fellow babies deported. He also seems to be a born leader.
Alas, this isn’t the Trump-trolling toon you’re looking for. People may search for protest art hidden among the potty jokes, but the closest they’re going to get to a subtextual statement is the Beatles’ “Blackbird” on the soundtrack – and that’s been repurposed as a lullaby. This is an innocuous enough mishmash that relies on the sight of a kid in itsy-bitsy sock garters and shirttails, screaming into a Fisher-Price toy phone and shaking his Pampered moneymaker. The only ones being pandered to here are folks who’ve watched that viral dancing-baby video several billion times and anybody willing to treat animated movies as nothing more than visual babysitters.
So yes, on the plus side, you do get Baldwin in comic beast mode, voicing a miniature Wall Street master of the universe that, per the natural selection process that happens at the babymaking assembly line, is fast-tracked as “management.” He’s sent to Earth as the newborn brother of Tim (Miles Bakshi), a seven-year-old who’s miffed at having to share his parents’ attention with the family’s latest addition. There’s a reason behind all this, something about a conglomerate called Puppycorp trying to corner the market on cuteness and only Boss can keep the natural adorability pecking order intact, but who’s kidding who: This is an excuse for the actor to trot out his best 30 Rock inflections and spout CEO wisdom literally from the mouth of babes. (You wish someone would accidentally hand the kid a yellow citrus fruit, so he could take a bite then yell, “Good god, Lemon!”)
And because this single-joke premise really isn’t enough to sustain a feature-length movie, a certain spit-everything-up-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks mentality kicks in, resulting in a hodgepodge of disparate elements hitting you every few minutes. In addition to the requisite flood of “Dreamworks Face” mugging, you also get a few conspicuously Toy Story-looking fantasy sequences, a Genddy Tartakovsky-ish interlude and several manic moments that suggest the animators have been huffing on Tex Avery’s fumes. The pop-culture references range from the obvious to the musty; there’s a set piece set to the Seventies S.W.A.T. theme, and a key plot point, if you want to call it that, hinges on a gaggle of Elvis impersonators. Deep pathos is Pixar’s department. The Boss Baby is content to just hire celebrity voices and rifle through platitudes: Family is important, imagination is good, displacement anxiety is natural, your parents still love you, babies in business suits are cutie cute-cute, yadda yadda yadda. This is harmless filler, the kind designed for long car rides and cross-country flights. It’s a cinematic pacifier.