More than a half-billion dollars in box office can’t be wrong — can it? When Tom McGrath’s smash hit “The Boss Baby” made $528 million worldwide in spring 2017, the natural response was Well, when can we make more? No worries that McGrath’s film already stretched out award-winning author Marla Frazee’s picture book into feature length or that it ended with a pretty tidy conclusion in which eponymous boss baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin, decides to become a regular, non-boss baby. The world wants more Boss Baby; why should logic deny them?
By 2018, Netlix had rolled out its answer: television series “The Boss Baby: Back in Business,” which didn’t just stretch out a picture book into nearly two hours like its predecessor, but which somehow managed to craft a gobsmacking four seasons of material from what was essentially that film’s post-script. Now, McGrath’s Universal movie “The Boss Baby: Family Business” resolves the seemingly intractable sequel problem with a simple solution: “Hey, what if the Boss Baby was a boss again?”
So, hey, what if the Boss Baby was a boss again? The machinations to reach that grating, obvious point are indeed complex. While “The Boss Baby” ended with Boss Baby (aka Ted) and his big brother Tim leaving the world of BabyCorp behind, and “Back in Business” saw them re-enter it (only to, once again, leave it all behind!), “The Boss Baby: Family Business” zips ahead to their adulthood (boring! no one cares about adult bosses!), then invokes a magic potion to, yes, shrink them back down to baby size! Babies, still bosses.
If nothing else, the deranged plotting of this most unwieldy chapter should instill a hearty sense of awe for what children are willing to consume. Perhaps babies really should be the bosses, at least if this is the entertainment they so desire and are willing to pay big baby bucks for. This writer, not a baby or close to it, could barely make heads or tails of the film’s first twenty minutes. Aging really is the greatest enemy, and children are indeed the future.
Here’s the gist: Tim (voiced by James Marsden, replacing Tobey Maguire and Miles Bakshi from the first film) is now an adult, and while age hasn’t tempered his imagination, it doesn’t quite fit with his life as a stay-at-home dad. Wife Carol (voiced by Eva Longoria) is the breadwinner, brainy Tabitha (voiced by Ariana Greenblatt) isn’t hip to the creative stuff that makes her dad tick, and baby Tina (voiced by an excellent Amy Sedaris) is such a handful that she wears down even the zippy Tim.
Adult Ted (again voiced by Alec Baldwin) is no longer a baby, but he’s still a major boss. He tries to remedy a lack of intimacy with his family by way of crazy gifts (like Tabitha’s insane pony Precious, which neighs loudly for a plush version ASAP). Tabitha’s love for Uncle Ted is strong; he also embodies her idea of success, but her ambition might not be entirely self-made. She’s pushed toward greatness by no less than Jeff Goldblum, who voices a manic mash-up of his Apartments.com pitchman and every nutty mad scientist cinema has ever made. (More than any other character in the film, this one works.)
Leave it to Goldblum and Sedaris to lean into the film’s wackiness in ways that no one else will. After unveiling minutes upon minutes of set-up and retconning, we arrive at the story: Goldblum’s Dr. Erwin Armstrong is using his candy-colored array of fancy private schools (including the one Tabitha attends) to build an army of super-strong kiddos who will eventually do away with all parents everywhere. Tina, this film’s chosen Boss Baby, has been sent to stop him, which will inevitably involve reuniting Tim and Ted for another brotherly adventure. There will be a serum to shrink them back to kid and baby size; there also will be high jinks and misdirection and an entire subplot involving the dulcet tones of Enya.
The film’s inherently frenetic nature yields some pretty amusing stuff, including a zippy chase sequence through Tim and fam’s small town and a series of moments that hinge on Ted trying to wrangle his very weird cadre of classmates into a semblance of normalcy. There’s even emotion, especially when Tabitha is allowed to share what’s really going on with her (albeit to a younger, secret version of her own father) and Tim and Ted finally give in to their inevitable bonding.
Flashier stuff isn’t up to task, from awkward character design (the adults are, let’s just say, crafted with less care than the kiddos) to shoehorned callbacks and an over-reliance on exposition to push story points that could stand a more artful approach. The mind-bending nature of this series doesn’t help matters. (So, do these babies want to be bosses or not?) In the “Boss Baby” world, good sense never stands a chance of being in charge; money-making chaos reigns.
A Universal Pictures release, “The Boss Baby: Family Business” will be released in theaters and via streaming on Peacock for 60 days after its launch.