If you can believe it, the cult classic Shrek turns twenty this year. Watching Tom McGrath’s The Boss Baby: Family Business, I was struck by the fact that, atop the DreamWorks Studio credit a mere seconds into the film, the Shrek theme plays. Nothing screams our collective turn towards irony poisoning, as the fact that Shrek, a film that has basically become an extensive meme, is the defining film of DreamWorks Studio.
As if to take up Shrek’s meme-y mantle, Boss Baby: Family Business is a continuation of a first film that exists because some executive felt it would be very, very amusing to put Alec Baldwin in a film as a talking baby, and have him say “cookies are for closers.” Yes, this is the second film that features Alec Baldwin as a talking baby. Yes, the end times are near. I mean, have you seen the cross-globe heat wave that’s been happing for the past week and a half?
In the first Boss Baby; Baldwin played Theo, a baby sent from a secret agency that was determined to make sure that babies fought puppies for their parents’ love, or something. The only person aware of Theo’s skills, is his older brother Tim. For our tale, we’ve fast forwarded a good three decades. Tim (James Mardsen) has grown up and become a father. Ted (Baldwin once again), has become a hot shot corporate executive. Neither is presently on speaking terms, both conveniently afflicted by a malady known as a “plot device.”
Tim’s youngest is a brand-new baby girl named Tina (Amy Sedaris). He believes that Tina is a sweet young infant. Little does Tim know that the boss baby business is about to become a family business. Tina reunites Tim and his brother and turns them back into their (way) younger selves in order to infiltrate a toxic school run by a Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum).
What I appreciate most about Boss Baby: Family Business is that it’s a film which drops a lot of the pretenses that have surrounded mainstream animated cinema over the course of the last decade. Most modern animated films start out attempting to be a number of different films before shifting into “chase scenes” the second that landing each of those threads would be difficult. McGrath seems completely unconcerned with the former and he simply uses the complex plot to set up elaborate chase sequences. Because if you stop and think about the plot, it makes very little sense. McGrath seems to understand this and uses that to their advantage in setting up set-pieces.
Moreover, the film’s inventive editing style aids in these transitions. Boss Baby: Family Business has a delightful sense of momentum. Because animated cinema is usually so fluid, we sometimes tend to misrecognize how cinematic some animated films are. For the most part, McGrath’s film shows off a delightful understanding of editing conventions. Routinely, the film will use superimpositions to connect scenes together, and in turn, preserve its propulsive momentum.
This may all seem like effusive praise for Boss Baby: Family Business, which highlights the other, somewhat meta-textual issue with the film. A seriously as it might seem like I am taking Boss Baby 2, I also recognize that the tone here is funny precisely because it’s the damn Boss Baby 2. I’m probably supposed to be making gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss baby jokes at this point. And I am! I’ve been making smarmily cynical jokes throughout most of this review. Therein lies the central issue with this film. It’s impossible to take any of it seriously, because ultimately, it’s The Boss Baby 2.
Unfortunately, the film’s sentimental core demands that you take the film at least a little bit seriously. The Family Business precociously devolves into being a film about “family business,” none of which lands, because this is a film franchise that exists entirely as a meta joke. Maybe that’s the tone they will eventually reach come Boss Baby 3. At that point, the Templeton’s may challenge Shrek for his meme crown.
- Rated: PG
- Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, fantasy
- Release Date: 7/2/2021
- Directed by: Tom McGrath
- Starring: Alec Baldwin, Amy Sedaris, Ariana Greenblatt, Eva Longoria, James Marsden, Jeff Goldblum, Jimmy Kimmel
- Produced by: Jeff Hermann
- Written by: Marla Frazee, Michael McCullers
- Studio: DreamWorks Animation