The Boss Baby" milks a fertile premise until it feels about as perfunctory as corporate drudgery. While DreamWorks Animation's latest movie starts well and ends sweetly, the loud, frenetic middle seems like an awfully good time to squeeze in a nap.
Based on a popular picture book, the basic idea could hardly be more universal: life is going along just swimmingly for 7 ½-year-old Tim (voiced by Miles Bakshi), until his parents (Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy Kimmel) inform him that he's about to have a baby brother.
Because a grown-up Tim (Tobey Maguire) narrates the story, a bit of hyperbole is reasonable, like his recollection of the baby (Alec Baldwin, in an inspired casting stroke) motoring up to the driveway in a cab, already wearing a little suit and tie.
"He's taking over the whole house!" Tim protests, essentially speaking for every sibling stuck with the arrival of a newborn, while his exhausted parents suddenly lack the strength to stay conscious long enough to croon his bedtime song.
After that, though, "The Boss Baby" (directed by "Madagascar" alum Tom McGrath) becomes one extended, hyperactive caper, with the baby actually conducting a secret mission on behalf of Baby Corp., having something to do with puppies and a finite amount of love to split between the two. (Historically dogs get the short end of the stick when kids come into the picture, but by the time Tim and the baby are heading to Vegas, injecting basic logic into the formula has long since left the building.)
As a consequence, the appealing notion of the kid's feelings of displacement, the fact only he knows the baby can talk and the amusing twist of hearing Baldwin bark orders in baby form get largely lost in the shuffle. What emerges instead is a sort of odd animated version of a buddy comedy, with the squabbling duo forced to join forces and grudgingly bond.
To be fair, the movie eventually finds its way to a nice if inevitably saccharine message about the importance of family. The price of getting there, though, is enduring a series of laugh-challenged interludes that, other than perhaps a moment of flatulence, don't offer much more for small fry than the adults.
Then again, if there's a rap on recent DreamWorks movies, it's that they often tend to look more enticing on billboards than they do in theaters. While the idea behind "Boss Baby" is certainly cute, as executed, that new-baby smell gets stale pretty quickly.
"The Boss Baby" premieres March 31 in the U.S. It's rated PG.