THE latest from DreamWorks animation is, as you might imagine, ostensibly aimed at kids. You can tell by the bright colours, goofy slapstick and, ya know, the fact that it’s about cute talking babies.
What you also get is something deeply strange and infused with more than the usual amount of pop culture references that will fly over the head of your average six-year-old. Tim (voiced as a kid by DreamWorks regular Miles Christopher Bakli and as grown-up narrator by Tobey Maguire) is a happy seven-year-old boy who is the centre of his loving parents’ (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) world. That is until the announcement of a new baby brother.
But while Tim expects a screaming baby to hog his parents’ attention, what actually arrives is a business suit-wearing, suitcase-wielding executive baby sent on a mission from the place they obviously come from: Baby Corp, a conglomerate of adult-minded management infants whose job it is to preserve the world’s love for children over other things – namely the ultra-cute puppies sold by Puppy Co, the same company for which Tim’s parents work.
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Using that confounding premise as a springboard, it’s one of those films that aims for the sweet spot between appealing to kids and adults alike. It’s more successful in that endeavour than you might think, with as much skewering of corporate America and random intellectualised pop culture gags – the split-second power naps, the “cookies are for closers”. reference to Baldwin’s famous speech from Glengarry Glen Ross, the overwhelming cuteness of puppies via a corporation being an existential threat to people having babies – as there are poop jokes and daft, Minions-esque slapstick.
Baldwin is no stranger to playing an egomaniacal and controlling boss, having astonished audiences for months with his Trump impression on Saturday Night Live. He attacks the eponymous infantile persona with gusto and lifts up the material at every turn as he combines elements of his Jack Donaghy character from 30 Rock and every kind of comically officious boss you see in endless cinematic workplace comedies. Put simply, there’s just something inherently funny about a cute baby with Baldwin’s unmistakable tones.
There’s no doubting it’s a film that feels stretched beyond its premise, a meme-ready one-note short-film concept flattened over a feature-length runtime, while in the later stages of the plot grasps for pathos that just isn’t there with generic explorations of sibling rivalry and the meaning of family. It also can never quite resist the compulsive need to play up the cuteness for cuteness sake.
However, it’s got peppy energy, the script by Michael McCullers (Austin Powers, Baby Mama) is witty enough to keep the chuckles coming and Baldwin’s joyous voice performance revels in the ridiculousness of it all. The result is something that is a lot better than its silly and bizarre premise suggests.