Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Boss Baby (2017)

While observing the opening credits that reconstruct the Dreamworks logo as a baby mobile, I swiftly assessed that it was in spirit with what they are as a company now: a gimmick, a company that seems desperate to try and encroach on the zeitgeist when it has already found a comfortable spot in it naturally. I don't want to make it seem like I detest them, because I don't. However, Disney and Dreamworks are at the vanguard of the animated film enterprise and the difference between them is night and day. Disney creates with their heart, while Dreamworks creates with their head. Not to say that Disney isn't heady or clever and that Dreamworks is heartless, but their styles are unique unto themselves. 

Dreamworks' propensity for terse, one-line concepts, sassy, smart-alecky humor, and an irrepressible, ADHD-like energy allows for good films, but they seem to, for the most part, be merely to amuse. Additionally, they seem to be awfully proud of their few stand-out franchises, because their insatiable need for enduring works lead to additional franchises spawning seemingly inexplicably and prematurely. Hello Turbo, The Croods, Home, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and their ignominious sullying of my personal favorite religious cartoon of all time. Yeah, Dreamworks has, more often than not, made Netflix a very precarious, frightening place.

While I don't find Dreamworks virilent or callous by any means, I just never really find much potential with them, at least not enough to believe that they can transcend the patterns set forth by themselves, or at the very least, find a new approach to them. However, there does seem to be hope. Captain Underpants ignites the second-grade nostalgia in me with every promo. As well, Boss Baby gave me hope. Vacillating hope, which ultimately proved to be unfortunately prescient, but hell, I think it's the first time that a mediocre effort actually represents a possible sign of improvement.

The story begins with Timothy, an imaginative 7-year-old, who is perfectly content with his life with just him and his parents. However, an intruder bursts into his life: a baby brother. However, this baby has very specific eccentricities. He dons a business suit perpetually, his innocent, cherubic actions seem to have latent motives possibly linked to sabotage, and, most incredible, he can talk. He is the Boss Baby, sent to Earth to...

Hold on a second. I have to take a breath for this one because this...this is going to hurt.

*inhales* ...sent to Earth via a company called BabyCorp, where he is the manager, after being deemed unsuitable for the family lifestyle. Many babies are employed via BabyCorp, but lose these business skills and knowledge of BabyCorp as they grow older, specifically if they fail to replenish themselves with a Secret Formula that sustains their intellect. He has been sent to obtain reports on a puppy called The Forever Puppy, a puppy meant to stay young and adorable forever. BabyCorp, as well as The Boss Baby, are against this because according to their data, dogs are overtaking babies, in terms of cuteness and appeal. However, if Boss Baby fails his task, he will be forced to live the family way forever. He recruits Tim to assist him on his mission. In exchange, Tim will be rid of his new brother forever, leaving any hint of The Boss Baby untraced. However, they form a bond, as the Boss Baby questions whether or not family life may be apt for him.

Oh, the fucking agony.

I can say with no exaggeration that this has the contingency to be, quite frankly, the stupidest premise in the history of Dreamworks Animation. It's not disparaging or insultingly bad, but moreso painfully misguided. While simple on paper, it gets lost in execution. Every revelation, every surprise, every detail is at best, warmed over and at worst, ineffably asinine. I was tempted to run down a litany of films this rips off, but I will instead explain it simply. This film makes 2003's Good Boy! plausible by comparison. If you don't remember that film or are unaware, watch it and then proceed to recoil in horror from the validity of my statement. Additionally, it robs elements from, of all films, Baby Geniuses. Yeah, that whole babies acquiring copious amounts of human intellect and then suddenly losing it with age nonsense. Baby Geniuses, one of the worst talking baby products ever, did that first.
 
I tried, y'all. I tried telling myself that it was only a movie. Even with the most invasive plot holes, I can usually begrudgingly pass it off as, "Well, they needed to progress the story." However, the plot here is such an incoherent mess that plot holes stick out like a sore thumb. For example, the villain, Francis E. Francis (hardy-har-har), is the mastermind behind the Forever Puppy. He originally worked for BabyCorp, but after discovering that his body could not adequately handle the Secret Formula, he was fired and later invented the Forever Puppy out of spite and vengeance. 

Well, wait a minute. What happened to him forgetting about BabyCorp as he aged? Did his henchman have to keep reminding him? He says that he still has the formula, but it was stated that he can't drink it, so how does that work? For that matter, Boss Baby was able to transport Tim to BabyCorp via a very specific pattern whilst sucking on a pacifier. What if Boss Baby, by chance, sucked on it with the same velocity? Would he infiltrate BabyCorp? On top of that, when were dogs and babies ever dominant over another? From my perspective, the amount of cute dog media and cute infant media are basically equivalent as far as adulation goes and the admiration for dogs and babies are, yet again, on the same level. The way I see it, they can both be irritating and they both can leave shit stains on the floor.

That, in addition to another plot hole I will keep a secret, leads to another foible with the narrative. It's wrongheaded and yet so resolutely thorough. The movie expects us to take this as face value in the context of this world. The final third finishes laboriously with a lachrymose, inordinately syrupy conclusion, which tries to fake us out innumerable times in trying to get us to believe it isn't going to go the predictable route. Spoiler: they do. However, the problem with the movie's objective for us to take it seriously is that not only is there no cohesion, but there's not an ounce of realism. At the very least, it's not grounded.

With a premise like this, you can go about it one of two ways. One, you can abolish all sense of realism, which can work, or two, you can balance fantasy with veracity, which is more ideal, because it makes it more identifiable. Rugrats, for example, is the quintessential paradigm for the talking baby children's product. Not only does it have the pitch-perfect levels of eccentricity, energy, humor, and heart, it makes sure to emphasize that this is all through the perspective of a child. The babies talk, but they don't really talk, not so that it matters to adults. I never expected Boss Baby to be teeming with realism, but the filmmakers pretend that it is. 

It is limpid in this film that babies can talk behind their parents' backs, which is fine on a Toy Story level of storytelling. I can accept that, but goddamn it, two parents conceived a child that sports a tuxedo, a tie, and struts around with a briefcase, and they don't even bat an eye. The parents aren't even eccentric enough for it to be a joke that can propel itself. They're just stupid to be stupid. Hell, this world, with all of the infants' discussions about the role dogs play in the decline of admiring infants, there are barely even any dogs seen in the film. And again, the final twenty minutes are clumsy with regards to providing any sort of sturdy link between what's supposed to represent reality and what is merely blatant fantasy. And as I reiterate, the aspects that aren't confounding are trite and rote.

This focus on such a profoundly erroneous story affects the humor, as well. Don't get me wrong. It has quite a few humorous moments permeated relatively evenly. However, the film is so fixated on creating an energetic tone and being so invested in its story and so ebullient in telling it that that same energy isn't properly or consistently allocated to the humor, so what we end up with are customary infancy gags and anemic attempts at gross-out humor.

So, with my ardent, vociferous disapproval for the script (sorry to screenwriter Michael McCullers), is there anything I liked? Well, yeah. Quite a bit, actually. In fact, on my spectrum, my opinions of the script and the animation are the vastest dichotomy I can produce. While the script is basically bullshit, the animation is breathtaking. On solely animation, I'd easily find a spot for this in my Top 5 Dreamworks animated films. Excluding a few stock, uninspired character designs (particularly the villain), the main characters, specifically Tim and Boss Baby, are animated so affably. On top of that, the backgrounds, the settings, the lighting, the color palette, the bold, hallucinatory, vibrant fantasy sequences, are all at the apotheosis of Dreamworks' animation.

While I am baffled and frustrated by the script, Tim and Boss Baby are developed finely, displaying a very gentle, likable, captivating chemistry, which makes me bemoan the fact that it has found a place in such a thankless script. It also helps that their voice actors do a lot to support their roles. Baldwin, while given gauzy material, does a serviceable job as Boss Baby. As well, I was surprised by newcomer Miles Christopher Bakshi. While I don't believe he will be a breakout star, he emits so much charisma and surprising aplomb that I am definitely in support of him receiving more roles. Even Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow are sweet and good-natured as the parents.

And yes, I will give the film some credit. At the very least, while I consider the script a squandered, feckless, bleary, overstuffed, incompetent tragedy of errors, I can, at the very least, concede that there was an ambitious chutzpah behind it. That's where I see it as a bizarre step in the right direction. This film does have a trajectory that it follows. It knows where it's going. The path is broken and unreliable, but the direction is definitive. I understand that it was based on a picture book, but that's no excuse. Trust me when I say that lack of material wasn't the issue with this film. It's underwhelming in certain aspects and overwhelming in others, as well as doing each in such grandiloquent extremes. So final verdict? Average.

RATING: Two out of four stars



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