As most of us know, animation can create virtually any possibility dreamed up in the imagination. The rules of time and space can be manipulated and altered in a countless variety of ways. However, the legendary Chuck Jones would stress that when making his classic cartoons to remember his disciplines. His reasoning: just because animation can, doesn’t mean it should. Any sort of dramatic or comedic tension cannot exist in an animated cartoon if the director fails to define the logic of the world they’re attempting to create. Applying this philosophy, Jones created a set of strict rules for the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons.
Bound to these guidelines, the audience can understand the limitations of the environment, logic, and physics of the cartoon and understand why the gags are funny.
With this in mind, The Boss Baby proves Jones’ theory. This is a terrible movie, and terrible for many reasons, but mainly because it lacks any sort of discipline whatsoever, having no rules for itself and thus plays as a chaotic and illogical mess. No gag can work because no logic exists, and since no logic exists no can subvert the expectations of the audience. The Boss Baby has is all over the place in what’s “real,” “imaginary,” and “heightened reality.” It doesn’t make any sense.
I don’t understand the world, but I really don’t understand the joke. Why is there a Boss Baby? Based on Marla Frazee’s popular picture book, we know the titular baby (Alec Baldwin) appears at the doorstep of the Templeton household and is quickly adopted by the parents of Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi), a seven-year-old only child. Tim feels his charitable parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) neglect him with the arrival of this mysterious suit-wearing, briefcase carrying baby. As Tim points out to them, doesn’t this setup strike anyone as a bit odd?
However, it’s soon revealed The Boss Baby is actually a suave businessman employed by Baby Corp. He dreams of a promotion and is investigating the new product yet to be released by Puppy Co., an evil dog company. That’s right: dogs. Because dogs are really cute, and people are getting more dogs than having kids, this represents an existential threat to Baby Corp’s bottom line. But quickly the Boss Baby realizes he can’t solve this mystery alone, so he recruits Tim to figure out what in the world is going on at Puppy Co.
None of this makes any sense. What products do Baby Corp. make or what services do they offer? This is never explained, and neither is what Puppy Co. does, either. Also, why are babies and dogs enemies? Can’t the cuteness market be shared between the two? Adding insult to injury, the Boss Baby isn’t even a boss, but a mere drone yearning to be a boss. Now this all may seem trivial, but how can any joke work if there’s no logic or facts established to play off one another? It’s hard for humor to rely on being random.
That discrepancy is only one of many I had watching The Boss Baby. I’m not alone: I barely heard anyone laugh in the screening I attended. The argument could be this one’s really for the kids, but you know a movie is in trouble when both parents AND kids are equally confused. Honestly, I can see the gimmick of having a comedian like Alec Baldwin voicing a precocious baby secondary to things like actual plot, characters, or point, but hanging all the responsibility on his shoulders risks everything else. In this case, the risk wasn’t worth it: again, this is a terrible movie.