I took my daughter to Boss Baby—an animated movie about a talking infant who wears a suit—because I like hearing her laugh. Little did I know I’d be looking upon horrors beyond imagining in the number one movie in America.
The Boss Baby is, in the main, not good. I laughed at times, mostly at unexpected nerd references, but the film feels way too broad, like a bunch of predictable gags wrapped around a treacly premise. However, there’s a weird conceptual churn required to support the film’s humor and fantasy logic—it’s a baby! who’s also a businessman!—and these underpinnings infuse The Boss Baby with an odd, slightly queasy sort of energy.
The movie is narrated by Tim Templeton, a grade-school kid living the perfect life of wild, imaginative play and cuddly bedtime ritual. Tim’s mom is shown as being pregnant in the movie’s opening moments and then—after a credits sequence that shows a baby factory in the sky sorting infants—Boss Baby pulls up in a cab and rings the doorbell to the family’s house. Then the madness begins.
As seen in trailers for The Boss Baby, the movie’s core premise is that the hard-charging titular infant works for BabyCo and has been tasked to derail a rival company’s new puppy product. Because, you see, puppies are stealing love from babies, just like Boss Baby is commanding all the attention from Tim’s parents. The elder Templetons say that they love the new baby with all their hearts, meaning there’s no love left for Tim. It’s the kind of dynamic that’s launched a million parenting advice books.
You can probably guess what happens to this narrative thread by the movie’s end but it’s still a staggering conceit to deliver to childrens’ heads: you better be on your A+ kid-game at all times or something else will supplant you in your parents’ hearts. It’s not necessarily untrue but rarely is it said so bluntly as in The Boss Baby. As this premise rolled out, I took my daughter’s hand into my own and checked her facial expression. She wasn’t crying and, thankfully, she didn’t ask me if that was true once the movie was over.
The movie’s wildest exposition dump happens when Boss Baby explains his backstory to Tim. The sequence riffs on psychedelic revelations in films like The Matrix or Doctor Strange, where wise mentors alter mindstates to show protagonists How Things Really Work. It all starts with a pacifier. In an energetic monologue, Boss Baby talks about the shamanic power of the binky and how, once children are weaned off of it, they forget all about the baby factory in the sky and BabyCo and being prematurely able to walk, talk, and close deals. This whole sequence is essentially like Boss and Tim are taking peyote in the desert.
Boss Baby Drinks a Bottle of Secret Formula That Lets Him Be Grown-Up Smart But Keeps Him from Actually Growing Up
Yes, about the closing deals thing: all babies are sorted in the baby factory, which definitely isn’t heaven. (At one point, Tim asks Boss if he’s the Baby Jesus and Boss scoffs.) Babies who don’t laugh at the tickling station get sent to management. There, they get fed with a special kind of bottle that lets them stay physically stay at baby size but also mature psychologically. Which, according to my crude knowledge of brain growth and human development, is not how things work. If Boss Baby doesn’t drink this magical elixir at regular intervals, he reverts to being a babbling, uncoordinated normal infant. This is humiliating for him.
Main bad guy Francis Francis runs PuppyCo, the rival corporation that wants to run BabyCo out of business. His reason for wanting this? He too was once an exec-baby but his lactose intolerance meant that he couldn’t drink the secret formula anymore. He was fired and wants revenge. To get it, he lures Boss to PuppyCo HQ so he can steal the secret formula and crank out preternaturally cute puppies who will never get old. This might be where The Boss Baby reached Peak Creepy for me, because the idea of a baby dog who never grows up and learns to poop outside is not a good thing.
Tim and Boss have to get to the Pet Show in Las Vegas to rescue Tim’s kidnapped parents and foil Francis’ plan. Thanks to what must be the worst TSA contingent anywhere, they sneak aboard an airplane and get to Sin City. Neither one of them can drive but they work an abandoned-child con game on a gaggle of giggly girls in a bachelorette party limo and get to the convention center. Oh, and Tim slurps down a Long Island Iced Tea on the way.
Maybe the oddest thing about The Boss Baby is the stance the movie takes on corporations. Sure, PuppyCo is bad because it’s got an evil plan, but BabyCo is out here, magically arresting child development, people. It’s especially odd, now that the United States has a president who calls himself a master deal-maker and loves sitting in big, big trucks.
If you’re a grown-up accompanying a child to this movie, you should know—if you don’t already—that you are a mark who is highly susceptible to the pleading of children. As such, you might also be especially vulnerable to seeing, say, babies playing with broken glass on a trampoline. The action set pieces in The Boss Baby, of which there are several, run right along the edge of being nightmare fuel, like the near-miss on puppies dismembering Boss Baby.
Oh, sure, it’s a kid’s movie and nothing bad is going happen, but it also pings off the parental guilt of not spending enough time with your kid, offering it up as a tool to kids who don’t already use this tactic.
For God’s sake, if you saw The Boss Baby over the weekend, please talk to me about all this loopiness—and hey, maybe it was only me being weirded out—in the comments.