Nobody can give voice to a corporate jerkwad quite like Alec Baldwin.
His gruff, biting tone — so memorable as the abusive sales motivator in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and the network honcho in “30 Rock” — gets put to good use in “The Boss Baby.” As the title character, Baldwin capitalizes on delivering harsh truths with a kind of matter-of-fact detachment, which helps carry this imaginative animated comedy beyond its wobbly premise.
“If people really knew where babies came from, they’d never have one. Same with hot dogs,” he says.
We meet Baldwin’s Boss Baby when he’s singled out for “management” instead of “family” during a career selection process at the heavenly Baby Corp. — a company designed like a joint venture between Rube Goldberg and God.
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Meanwhile, 7-year-old Tim (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi, grandson of animation legend Ralph Bakshi) isn’t thrilled about making room for a sibling. He enjoys doting parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) who treat him as the center of their universe.
“The triangle is the strongest shape in nature,” he says of their bond.
But soon that triangle is transformed into a square. And there’s nothing more square than his new infant brother, who arrives wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase.
Sounds weird? It gets weirder.
Boss Baby is actually working a covert assignment because Tim’s parents are employed at pet conglomerate Puppy Co. Turns out babies and puppies are like the Yankees and Red Sox when it comes to market domination of human love.
The movie becomes a battle between Boss Baby and the suspicious Tim, who hopes to reveal the true nature of the little imposter to his parents. But this cherub is hardly cherubic. He’s one resourceful, diapered handful.
“Do you know who else wears diapers?” he says. “Astronauts and NASCAR drivers.”
The trailer for “The Boss Baby” evokes awful memories of “Baby Geniuses,” the talking infants picture that can stake a claim as one of the worst flicks ever made. (Let’s not even discuss the hideous sequel: “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.”) But the creepiness of that 1999 eyesore had much to do with dubbing mature voices onto live-action babies. Animation is routinely constructed around talkative animals, so making the leap to chatty newborns poses fewer problems.
With that sticking point out of the way, “The Boss Baby” (loosely based on a book by Marla Frazee) figures out how to make its overcomplicated plot palatable. Despite exposition-dependent material and a penchant for introducing too many stray ideas (courtesy of “Madagascar” director Tom McGrath and “Austin Powers” sequels screenwriter Michael McCullers), the DreamWorks project relies on strong visuals.
Tim is introduced as a kid with a hyperactive imagination. Fantasies of exploring the Congo and deep sea diving turn into realities of his backyard and bathtub. With character design and a color palette evocative of 1950s suburbia, the film delivers an alternating yin-yang of fanciful and mundane.
But this tactic also makes the story fundamentally intriguing. Is all this baby business really happening, or is it just an extended fantasy Tim concocts to deal with the arrival of his unnamed brother? Plenty of clues invite interpretation. Plus, there’s a secondary analogy more tied to the original book about how babies wield the same power that employers do over parents.
At a surface level, kids will enjoy the action scenes, playful imagery and naughty-lite jokes. (One gag digitally blurs the baby’s private parts like an episode of “Cops.”) Adults should appreciate the emotional payoff of a family coming together.
Everyone will dig Baldwin.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
‘The Boss Baby’
Rated PG. Time: 1:37.