15boss abyThe Boss Baby (97 minutes) is marketed as a family film. Like most films aimed at children, there are dark messages lined up just below the surface, waiting to be decoded. 

I wasn’t dying to see it. But, since the only other alternative was the eighth film in the box office gold franchise about those guys who like to drive at unreasonably high rates of speed while also in a state of extreme anger, and I managed to avoid the previous seven films, it was a point of pride that I find something else to review.

The film starts off with the voice of Tim (Miles Bakshi) narrating over some vintage-inspired animation. He tells us that, according to his parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), he has an overactive imagination. The animation helpfully blends together his perceptions of what is happening with what is actually happening … so if he is pretending to fight underwater monsters, he is actually holding his breath in the bath. This establishes that Tim is an unreliable narrator, and the story that follows is most likely a product of his rich fantasy life. Might I suggest that, with only minor rewrites, this could work as a child’s tale of terror? Because there are some really horrifying elements at play.

Before the arrival of Boss Baby (Alex Baldwin), Tim gets three stories, five hugs and a special song (“Blackbird”) before bed every night — in spite of the fact that both his parents work at high-level jobs at a pet company. You see, the clues that this is a fantasy are there right from the beginning. And, before I continue, why would parents sing “Blackbird” to their child every night? It’s one of the saddest songs in the entire catalog of songs by The Beatles. And I held that opinion before the YouTube video made everyone cry. You know what song I sing to my baby daughter at bedtime? “The Shankill Butchers.” Much less likely to make someone cry.

Anyway, one day the Boss Baby arrives in a taxi, wearing a suit and tie. He asks his parents about this and they respond that it is cute and he looks like a little executive. Soon after, Tim, attempting to get his parents’ attention, waits forlornly in bed for a single story or a hug — only to find his parents are both singing “his” special song to his new brother. I have two kids, and that is messed up.

Either Tim’s fantasy life includes writing dialogue for his parents (in which case, why does he have them prefer his baby brother to him?) OR his parents really think it’s a good idea to completely ignore Tim and let him think they love his baby brother more than him. At one point, they are arguing about who is taking the business trip to Las Vegas and who is staying home with the new baby, while Tim sits sadly at the table, realizing that parental love is tenuous and easily lost. 

It is heartrending — and, for the record, if my husband and I had to make a similar choice, we would be figuring out which friend was free to babysit. Because when you are stuck at home with two small, screaming, hyper little squirrels whose idea of fun is waiting until you blink, then figuring out the quickest way to get on top of the roof and play Superman, the walls start closing in just a tad. Kids, if you ever read this, Mommy loves you!

The themes only get darker from here. It turns out babies are at war with puppies, because there is only so much love to distribute in a family, and puppies are starting to get more. 

Boss Baby was sent to Earth to stop the worldwide launch of the cutest puppy ever — because otherwise, the puppies will win. When this mission is accomplished, he will get a promotion and disappear — and his parents will forget he ever existed. I could probably write a thesis deconstructing the 20 kinds of messed up contained within the past paragraph, but instead, I will suggest that when picking movies to enjoy as a family, maybe don’t pick one that emphasizes how kids get ignored when new babies arrive.

Now showing at Patriot 14 + IMAX.

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